With the leaves starting to change, it’s becoming more apparent that fall is here, and with the falling leaves comes the best time of the year to eat scallops. Although they are available year-round, scallops are in their peak season from late fall through the winter, ensuring the freshest catch during these months. Scallops are bivalve mollusks, meaning they have 2 shells (like oysters and clams) which are held together by the adductor muscle, the part of the scallop most people eat. This muscle is used to open, and snap shut its two shells as a way to propel itself through the water helping it evade predators. There are two main types of scallops, sea scallops and bay scallops, each having quite different characteristics. Bay scallops are about the size of a dime, tend to be slightly sweeter and more tender than sea scallops, and are best sauteed or broiled as they cook quickly. Sea scallops on the other hand are much larger, growing up to 2 inches and tend to have a slightly chewier texture. These are best seared or grilled and are also sweet and tender, however can be slightly briny as well. Not much is needed to prepare a delicious scallop, and usually less is more in terms of ingredients as scallops are naturally very sweet. Butter is a great addition while cooking scallops to bring out the creamy richness, and lemon and garlic also enhance the unique flavor.
Scallops are sold by the pound and are usually seen in options such as u-10, u-15, 10/20 or 20/30. These numbers represent how many scallops will be required to make a pound. For example, u-10 would mean it will take under 10 scallops to make a pound (larger scallops). 20/30’s would require between 20 and 30 scallops to make 1 pound (smaller scallops.) The size does not affect the taste; however, it is typical that the larger the scallop, the higher the cost.
When looking at number of scallop landings over the past 30 years, overfishing for them was rampant in the 90’s. A rotational fishing strategy has since been implemented and has resulted in a more sustainable population of scallops. This strategy restricts fishing in major scallop areas throughout the Atlantic and cycles permittable zones, allowing the scallops enough time to develop, mature, and reproduce. In addition to this rotational strategy, great strides have been made to upgrade equipment that will reduce bycatch and produce more accurate surveys of the ocean floor. Dredges (often used to harvest scallops) have been upgraded by improving the ring size to four inches which allow smaller scallops to escape and continue maturing, and by adding turtle deflectors which prevent sea turtles from getting caught in the dredge. In addition to dredge improvements the recently implemented HabCam (habitat mapping camera) takes much more accurate readings of the bottom habitat, used alongside dredge reports to make the most accurate assessments to set beneficial restrictions. With scallop numbers being much more consistent after the implementation of these strategies, scallops are not overfished, and are not subject to being overfished; leading by example what sustainable fishing looks like. Because of this, limits are set each season based upon these seabed surveys to ensure overfishing of this species does not happen again. However, these limits can greatly affect the market price.