Mikulski amendment rescues Maryland seafood industry
Crabs will be picked on the Eastern Shore this summer, and corn will be canned, thanks to efforts by Sen. Barbara Mikulski and 99 other senators. Mikulski sponsored and the 99 voted for an amendment — now signed by President George W. Bush — to reopen the flow of alien guest workers to fill the job gap that could scuttle seasonal businesses.
H2B guest visas admit foreign nationals on a temporary basis when the American labor force can’t meet demand. In Maryland, that’s primarily seasonal workers to meet warm-weather demand in the seafood processing, agricultural and landscaping industries. The Mikulski amendment temporarily extends the visa program, which had already reached quota.
Maryland’s seafood-packing industry survives on guest H2B workers, mostly from Mexico, to pick crabs, shuck oysters and pack seafood.
So the passage of the amendment was a victory for Maryland’s embattled seafood industry, from watermen to packing houses.
Near the marshy scape of Hoopers Island, Bay Weekly caught up with Robin Hall of G.W. Hall & Son of Fishing Creek, Maryland. Hall is a man who knows much about crabs and has recently learned a little about Washington, as described by the truism There are two things you don’t want to see being made: sausage and legislation.
Even after victory, with crabs moving up the Bay and hungry to be caught, guest workers have yet to travel north.
“Right now, we’re in a two-week waiting period,” Hall explained. “The Immigration and Naturalization Service is trying to figure it out [the procedure for admitting the guest workers] and won’t accept applications until they do.”
As Hall and other Eastern Shore seafood business wait, Hall reflected on crabs and making laws, if not sausage. “When people really hear your story, they understand, it’s not an immigration issue,” he said. “It’s a small business issue.”
Got crabs? Dockside Crabs in Deale says they’re getting their crabs from the “lower Chesapeake,” but adds, “crabs should be heading up the Bay very soon.” Soon is when owner Bob Messenger will have his boat back in local waters.
At Dockside, steamed crabs are selling for $25 a dozen for mixed males, $35 a dozen ($60 for two dozen) for Number 1 males.
With warmer weather, crabs move up the Bay. Stay tuned for the news and hot Memorial Day blue crab deals.
In last week’s column, a type-setting error miscommunicated the sizes advertised by Mel’s in Prince Frederick.
“Measure tip to tip and check for fullness,” Mel Brennan says. Here’s how he grades his crabs: Super Jumbos, 63&Mac218;4" and up; No. 1 Males, 53&Mac218;4" to 63&Mac218;4"; No. 2 Males: 5" to 53&Mac218;4".