December 1 was the start of the 2015/2016 Maine scallop fishing season. From now until April 15 we will be able to buy the “dayboat fresh” bivalves for a healthy price….just under $20 per pound today at my local supermarket. There are indications that the management scheme is increasingly successful since the 2004 low point. Last year harvests totaled over 550,000 lbs of the adductor muscle, the part of the scallop that we eat. Historically, the best year was 1981 when 3.75 million pounds were pulled in. Obviously, we’re far from those levels, but one could argue the 1981 harvest was not sustainable, since the following year’s harvest was under 1.5 million pounds.
Managers of the fishery have been aggressive in increasing populations, by limiting daily catches, days of fishing, season length and fishing methods. The rule of thumb is that scallops increase 30% per year, so the trick is to figure out how many there are and limit the catch to under that.
Maine scallops are unique in that the boats which fish for them do not go far from shore for days at a time, that’s where the “dayboat fresh” comes from. One day of fishing in small boats means that the scallops will not be sitting in a hold on ice, soaking up water for up to a week, as they do in fisheries south of Maine’s border. In fact, aficionados of Maine’s scallops compare them to oysters, enjoyable raw or cooked, with subtle differences depending where they’re caught. Could this be the next foodie fad?
Maine scallops are taken in two ways, either using a small drag or one at a time by divers. Imagine getting suited up to scuba dive in January! Strict regulations determine which method is allowed and where. Many areas are closed on a rotating basis and fishers need to be tuned into sudden closures if quotas are reached. Depending on the zone, limits are either 10 or 15 gallons of meat. That’s either 90 or 135 pounds for a day’s work. At my supermarket price, that would be $1,800 to $2,700, but we can be sure the wholesale price is much lower, and nothing guarantees a full limit.
There’s a guy who sells by the side of the road in Ellsworth for $16/lb, and he assures me the scallops are a day old unless we buy on Saturday to Tuesday. He also sells Canadian shrimp since the Maine shrimp fishery has crashed, but that’s another story. Where would someone who doesn’t live in Maine get Maine scallops? You can take your chances where you are or you can go to downeastdayboat.com and talk to Togue. You may want to be seated when you see the price page, but if you want something like I’m having tonight, it’s the only way! Figure on a pound feeding four people. Visitors to Maine rarely come this time of year, so they’re “stuck” with lobsters in the summer months. What a shame!
More information: http://www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/scallops/index.htm
Another Maine scallop seller: http://www.freshmainescallops.com/index.html