Morgan Tolley is a third generation crab processor working on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, but he's worried that his industry may be under threat as more and more young people shun the traditional family-oriented trade.
The A.E. Phillips crab picking house Tolley manages in Fishing Creek, Maryland, relies on crabs harvested by the "watermen" of the Bay.
The threat of a shrinking workforce on the water is just one of the headwinds buffeting the Chesapeake Bay's iconic blue crab fisheries. The local sector must also contend with environmental issues and an increasingly global agricultural market.
Blue crabs are found up and down the east coast, from Nova Scotia to Argentina, but the crustaceans have long been synonymous with the Bay, the largest U.S. estuary with a surface area of 4,480 square miles.
While crab populations have changed, the workforce that processes crab meat in picking houses has also been transformed as companies become more reliant on immigrant labour.
The Phillips crab picking house, which supplies the locally famous Phillips Seafood Restaurants, now hires mainly Mexican employees through the U.S. H2B visa program for seasonal guest workers.
Local workers do not want the tough manual jobs in picking houses anymore, Tolley said, noting that the crab processing industry has had a difficult time securing the limited amount of guest worker visas issued by the federal government.
Lawsuits challenging the government's management of H2B visas have recently disrupted the programme, with a court ruling briefly forcing authorities to stop processing applications in March.
Labor Department statistics show that seafood companies in Maryland eventually received visas for at least 420 seasonal workers this year.