Md. crab houses miss out on worker visas in lotto, could face lost summer

Government policy could leave Maryland crab houses shuttered for the summer (ABC7)

Hoopers Island sits in a remote section of the Chesapeake Bay, but at this time of year, this end of the road community is bustling — crabs are running out and a steady parade of watermen are arriving at Harry Phillip’s dock to unload bushel after bushel of blue crab.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, the watermen and the man who buys their crabs say their livelihood is being threatened by a new government policy on migrant worker visas.

"There's something wrong with the system," said Phillips, who owns Russel Hall Seafood.

With record low unemployment in the U.S. and demand for migrant workers way up, the government instituted a lottery system for worker visas.

After going through two rounds of lotteries, Phillips hasn’t been granted a single worker visa.

A few of the crab houses did get their workers and will be in business, but most did not and are facing a lost summer.

"Right now, you'll never find an American crab picker again, or oyster shucker, they're not gonna do that," said Phillips. "You cannot run a business by getting your workers picked by a lottery. You know it, everybody else knows it, and so does President Trump."

Phillips says one waterman has already had his truck repossessed and he knows tougher times are coming if more visas aren’t granted soon.

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