Hooper’s Island crab houses call for change to H2B Visa Program after 1 house out of 10 recieves workers
HOOPERS ISLAND, Md – The crabbing industry in Hoopers Island calling for change to the H2B worker program after a 90 percent reduction in worker Visas were announced for crab houses in the region. The all-or-nothing lottery system that either grants businesses that apply all of their H2B workers or none at all is introduced when there are more applicants a maximum quote of 30,000 workers. 2022 saw over 120,000 applicants, and the lottery that followed left 9 out of 10 crab picking houses without workers.
Lawmakers and crabbing industry leaders met at the W T Ruark Crabhouse in Hoopers Island, which has been listed for sale after struggling to find adequate numbers of workers since 2018.
“I walked into this meeting and it feels like a funeral because that’s what we are doing we are here we are delivering the eulogy for W T Ruark today, and who is it going to be next year?” said Brice Phillips of AE Phillips Seafood.
Phillips believes it’s not just the crab houses that will close if this continues, the entire seafood infrastructure including watermen and wholesalers on Hooper’s island could be wiped out.
“They could survive if there were one or two houses that miss out on visas but with nine out of ten [businesses] they are going to go out of business too,” he said.
Congressman Andy Harris spoke at the event, pointing to bipartisan efforts he and Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen made to get what’s known as a Returning worker exemption passed for seafood workers. According to Rep. Harris, that measure has run into problems as its opposition is bipartisan too.
“The opposition comes from the people who believe we shouldn’t hire temporary foreign workers because it takes away union jobs, these are not union jobs and we have people who lump this in with immigration, this is not immigration these are temporary workers who pay taxes and then go back home,” Rep. Harris said.
Rep. Harris tells us, short of that exemption he is going to push for higher caps on the Visa program as part of next year’s budget appropriations bill in the US House. Business owners say as they wait for the H2B system to change, the only constant they have is how constantly changing their staffing is.
“It’s a roll of the dice and this year everyone came up with snake eyes except one and one out of 10 what crab trap maker can stay in business with one out of 10,” Brice said.
A study co-authored by the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association and the Maryland Department of Agriculture found that a 90 percent reduction statewide, would result in 141 million dollars and 1.257 full-time seafood jobs lost.