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Shrimpers Dealing with Worker Shortage before Season Begins

3 years 6 months 2 weeks ago Wednesday, April 05 2017 Apr 5, 2017 April 05, 2017 5:19 PM April 05, 2017 in News

BROWNSVILLE – Local shrimp boat owners are struggling to fill jobs with about two months left before peak shrimping season in the Gulf of Mexico.

They said they can’t find enough people that want to work in the shrimp industry.

Local shrimpers said they heavily rely on returning workers from Mexico and Central America to complete their ship crews. They come to work on visas for the season, under the H-2B temporary workers program.

This year the program isn’t available and the shrimpers said they’re hurting.

“I don’t know. We don’t know what we are going to do,” shrimp boat captain, Adalberto Ponce, said. “It’s going to get tough for us to be able to get our shrimp if we don’t have people.”

Ponce said it takes five to six men to form a crew. Currently, he’s only been able to hire one person.

“We’re going to go out and shrimp, but we’re not going to produce the same amounts as in past years,” he said.

Texas Shrimp Association Executive Director Andrea Hance said this year the government isn’t allowing what’s classified as “returning workers” to come back for temporary work under the H-2B visa program.

It’s slashed about 40 percent of their hiring pool.

“There’s a perception that we are not hiring American workers and pushing them to the side and getting out of the country workers. And in this scenario, this is not the case. We strictly do not have a pool of workers to choose from,” she said.

Ponce said he doesn’t know why there is a shortage.

“I don’t know why. They don’t like it, I guess. They don’t like to leave their homes. I just don’t know. They don’t want to work at sea,” he said.

Hance said shrimpers in the Brownsville-Port Isabel area are the biggest contributors to the harvesting of shrimp in the state. If they don’t catch what they are used to catching, the consumer could be paying the price.

“It would probably force most of the boat owners to come in and simply tie their boats up, so that would limit the amount of shrimp that we harvest. Therefore it could increase … the cost of the shrimp that you buy at the restaurant or seafood store,” she said.

The shrimpers are already pushing for legislation for 2018 that would allow them to hire foreigners who qualify under the returning workers program.

Hance said only one percent of American hires come back to work a second season.

The returning worker program expired on Sept. 30, 2016. It hasn’t been renewed, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

Shrimping experts said if they were to renew it now, it would still be too late for the shrimping industry.

The government caps the amount of H-2B visas approved for each fiscal year at 66,000. That number has already been met.

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