CAMBRIDGE — The Department of Homeland Security will release an additional 35,000 temporary worker visas for the Eastern Shore’s seasonal seafood industry, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday, March 5.
After weeks of urging federal officials to take action, Hogan spoke favorably of the action, which he says will help protect Maryland’s $355 million seafood industry and supply chain, particularly ahead of the start of the blue crab harvest season on April 1.
In January, Hogan wrote to federal administration officials urging them to release these critical visas and calling for a permanent solution to provide certainty to rural Maryland and in particular the Eastern Shore.
“I am pleased to report that our efforts to make additional H-2B visas available to help our state’s seafood industry have again proven successful,” Hogan said. “While we still urgently need a long-term solution to this problem, this announcement is welcome relief for our state’s iconic crab processing houses and seafood industry.”
Maryland’s Best Seafood, a marketing program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture, released a survey earlier this week measuring the economic impact of the state’s crab industry and the importance of the federal H-2B temporary visa program.
The eight crab processors surveyed agreed the current lottery system for awarding temporary visa requests creates uncertainty that hurts their businesses and that limiting the number of available H-2B visas hurts Maryland’s seafood industry as a whole.
Seven of the eight crab companies indicated they would not open for the 2020 crab season without adequate H-2B workers. The shuttering of these processors would severely impact the supply of “True Blue” Maryland crabmeat, as well as the livelihoods of American workers who rely on the industry for employment, including commercial watermen, restaurants and local businesses.
Without these seasonal workers, the survey showed income for watermen would drop by $12.5 million; processors would lose $37-$49 million in sales; Maryland would lose 914 to 1,367 jobs; and the overall hit to the state’s economy could be $100 million to $150 million.
This is the third straight year Hogan has been successful in pushing the federal government to release additional visas through the H-2B program.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., joined by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and many other federal, state and local elected officials in petitioning the Department of Homeland Security for the release of 65,000 H-2B visas, enough to adequately staff the needs of the Shore’s Chesapeake Bay crab picking houses.
“Maryland crabs are a central part of our state’s economy and culture — from the watermen who harvest them, to the crab houses that process them, to restaurants across the state who sell the iconic blue crabs to locals and visitors alike,” Van Hollen said. “To maintain this thriving industry, our crab houses have been in desperate need for the administration to release more H-2B worker visas. I’m glad the administration has heeded our calls to support our local seafood industry by releasing these much-needed visas. I will keep fighting to protect this important industry and to develop a long-term solution.”
A letter to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolfe signed by almost 200 U.S. representatives and senators outlined the perennial need for seasonal workers and the projected vacancies faced by the original allocation for the upcoming season.