Marketplace Scratch Pad

It’s a dirty job, and no one wants it

Scott Jagow Apr 16, 2009

While Florida is trying to save the yacht and plane industry, Maryland is worried about crabs. Crab-picking season just got underway, and despite the unemployment rate, it’s a job no one wants to do. So, guess where the seafood industry might turn?

Prison.

From today’s Baltimore Sun:

This week, members of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association toured facilities – the women’s prison in Jessup and the prerelease unit for women in Baltimore – to see whether there is a way to have inmates do the low-paying work, potentially saving one of the state’s signature industries.

Crab-picking in these parts has traditionally been done by women. Hence, the search for female inmates. But there could be logistical problems. The crabs that need picking are 2 and a 1/2 hours away from the prison.

The industry is desperate. Seasonal workers from Mexico and other countries have been doing the work, but this year Congress limited the number of H2B visas available, and only one of Maryland’s 21 crab processing plants got visas this year:

Industry officials say they aren’t expecting many local residents to seek the jobs, despite the down economy and rising unemployment.

“The younger generation doesn’t want to do a seasonal job, a not-glamorous job,” said Bill Sieling, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association. “It’s not the kind of jobs people go out and clamor for.”

The jobs are there for the taking, but if no one wants them, it’s likely prisoners will get the $7-10 an hour wage.

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