Every year, at the beginning of October, family fishing season starts for the locals on Nantucket Island for one of the sea’s greatest treasures- bay scallops! Locals are allowed to catch 1 bushel per week all month, then in early November the commercial season begins and lasts until March. The bay scallop plays a big part in Nantucket’s culture. Everyone involved from the scallopers to the many shuckers (“openers”), retailers and wholesalers have a stake in this small and fickle fishery.
Bay scallop catches vary greatly from season to season. Back in 1980 when our market was just 1 year old, Nantucket had a banner catch of 120,000 bushels. Since then harvests have had ups and downs. 2007 reported 3,860 bushels, in 2008, 17,000 bushels then down to 6,916 bushels the following season. This season has started out slowly. Despite tight supplies, we have been very fortunate to have had our supplier on Nantucket send us gorgeous scallops since the season opener!
The weather can affect the fishery greatly. Rough winter weather can make it tough on the scallopers to get on the water and if the temperature is below 28 degrees before 10 a.m. a red flag will go up at the harbormaster’s office to announce that “there’s no fishing today”. The reason for this rule is that young scallops (1 year or less) or babies (spats) will die when they hit air that’s that cold. No one knows for sure why there are such fluctuations in catches from season to season but the loss of eelgrass, the nursery area for young scallops, in some areas definitely has to be a factor. Predators such as crabs, starfish, conch and oyster drills eat a lot of bay scallops and there are other natural reasons like weather and water salinity.
The bay scallop fisheries in the Northeast, which includes Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Long Island haven’t produced much in recent years. Nantucket’s catches have been down from historic highs also but still remain a viable scalloping culture supplying what many say are the finest scallops in the world. Their sweetness and buttery texture is unbelievable. Forget your Coquille St. Jaques or any other fancy recipe. These babies should be eaten raw, maybe with a squeeze of lemon or maybe in ceviche (lightly marinated), or quickly caramelized in a pan with a little butter.
Here are 2 of the easiest recipes you’ll ever make (and most delicious)!
This content was originally published here.