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Palacios job fair hopes to fill needed shrimping positions - The Bay City Tribune: Community

Palacios job fair hopes to fill needed shrimping positions

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Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2018 11:01 am | Updated: 11:04 am, Wed Apr 4, 2018.

The shrimping season is around the corner and thousands of shrimpers will be clamoring for jobs on shrimp boats throughout the Texas Gulf Coast. However, finding enough workers to take those jobs may prove harder this year than last.

With that in mind, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold have scheduled a job fair for April 10 from 9 a.m. to noon in Palacios to fill dozens of jobs.

In the past, the shrimping industry relied on H2B visas to hire foreign workers for seasonal shrimping jobs. Farenthold has teamed with the TWC to fill these jobs with as many Americans as possible due to a high demand for H2B visas.

“We are in a more dire situation than last year,” said Victor Martinez, Jr., Director for Matagorda County Navigation District No. 1 for the Port of Palacios. “This job fair has to accomplish one of two things. Either we get enough U.S. workers who are capable and will last on the shrimp boats or we don’t get enough and it shows our congressional leaders we need more H2B visas specifically for the shrimping industry.”

Congress sets the H2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year with half going to those who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (Oct. 1 to March 31) and the rest to those who start working in the fiscal year’s second half (April 1 to Sept. 30).

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security decided in July for a one-time increase of the cap on H2B non-immigrant visas authorizing an additional 15,000 through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2017. 

Without the cap increase, Texas shrimp would have become harder to come by and been far more expensive due to a lack of immigrant workers.

Last year, the original 66,000 cap was reached March 16. This year, the cap was reached on Feb. 27.

A job fair was also held in May of last year to find workers for approximately 100 boats in Palacios. Only two people showed up. 

Matagorda County’s Economic Development Corporation’s Mike Ferdinand says a lack of workers has a trickle-down effect on our economy.

“Not allowing our local companies to crew their boats with experienced labor puts one of our oldest core industries at risk, and every business that depends on them,” Ferdinand said.

It’s not just restaurants and grocery stores that are hurt. The industry employs welders, technicians and staffs packaging facilities.

“The Texas seafood industry heavily relies on foreign seasonal workers and we fear our billion dollar industry may not recover from a second straight year without an adequate workforce to harvest and process our shrimp during our peak season,” said Andrea Hance, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association. “The seafood industry uses less than 1,000 foreign visa workers, however, these workers are extremely detrimental to our financial stability. Bottom line, our industry cannot find experienced workers to spend 30 to 45 days out at sea. It’s that simple.”

Hance estimates that, based on industry statistics from the 2017 season, the industry loses approximately 5 million dollars each day without an adequate workforce.

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