The Texas shrimp industry is facing a worker shortage as a result of the federal cap on U.S. visas for immigrant seasonal workers.
Andrea Hance, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association, told the Brownsville Herald that an estimated 70 percent of the Brownsville-Port Isabel shrimp fleet is starting off this season short-handed. The shrimp industry relies heavily on workers with H-2B visas, which are U.S. visas for temporary nonagricultural workers. A decades-old law limits the number of such visas to 66,000 for the whole country.
Congress failed to renew a cap exemption this year for returning workers, creating a worker shortage. The Labor Department last year released an additional 15,000 H-2B visas through a lottery, but it fell short of covering the workers needed for this shrimp season.
Hance said lacking 750 people from Mexico or Central America is crippling the Texas seafood industry. Most of the state shrimp industry's workers come from Mexico.
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"We're going to lose $1 million a day because the government won't allow these workers," she said.
Many crews are dealing with the shortage by not hiring headers, which are workers responsible for removing shrimp heads before they're frozen at sea. Headless shrimp bring in $1 to $1.50 more per pound at the dock than shrimp with heads, Hance said.
Shrimp boat owners would employ U.S. citizens on their boats, but many U.S. seasonal workers in the shrimp industry often have to return to port early, which is costly to boat owners, Hance said. Most people "have no idea what it takes to step on this boat and stay out in the Gulf of Mexico for 30 to 45 days," she said.
"This is not an economic win by no means," Hance said. "Nothing about it makes sense."