“We send our kids to school, we send them to college,” he said. “A person doesn’t go to high school, grade school or community college for some type of fishing and become a waterman. You don’t have your kids educated to pick crabs.” Seasonal workers, he said, have traditionally filled a critical labor gap.
Heather Mizeur, a Democrat running for Congress from a district on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, said the Biden administration can help address the labor shortage by authorizing more of the temporary visas. “The seafood industry out here on the shore desperately needs a reliable work force to process the crabs that our watermen harvest,” Ms. Mizeur said in an email.
While crabbers in the upper Chesapeake Bay, near Baltimore, are having better luck with their supply this year, Mr. Brown said that fishing on the Potomac River hasn’t yielded much crab. Blue catfish have become an invasive species in Chesapeake Bay, feeding on crab.
“It really just seems to be the perfect storm,” said Mr. Mills, of True Chesapeake Oyster Company.
In Baltimore, the restaurateur John Minadakis said that the smell of steamed crabs usually fills the air in summer, and that the price hike is hindering restaurants as they try to come back.
“It’s hurting us at a terrible time,” he said. “The summertime is crab season in Baltimore. There’s nothing like it, sitting outside with your friends cracking crab and drinking local beers. It’s a Maryland pastime.”
Mr. Minadakis, an owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, said he had to raise the price of his crab cakes and lower the price of drinks to offset the increased costs for his blue-collar customers who buy them together.
“The one option that’s never came to my mind is changing the recipe, because my father created the recipe 47 years ago,” he said. “When you think Jimmy’s, you think crab cakes.”