Truths and Myths:
The terms Day Boat and Diver Caught to describe scallops sold in retail stores or offered on restaurant menus have been widely overused if not completely misused. Both in the U.S. and abroad, scallops are certainly caught by divers and day boats, but the seasons here in the U.S. are relatively short and the catch volume is low. Daily diver harvesting is fairly common in other parts of the world, but the species of scallops are different from the U.S. domestic scallop and the product is usually frozen when it arrives in this country. There are two sources of Day Boat scallops - one is the general category fleet. These are smaller vessels which have multiple species licenses, and they are allowed to catch up to 400 lbs of scallops per day. They are not required to land the product every day, and, in fact, they normally stay out fishing for several days. The scallops they catch can be very high quality, but it is not necessarily one day old product as the term would imply. The second source is the scallop fishery in Maine. Most fishermen in Maine, whether diver or dragger, leave the dock in the early morning and are back by early afternoon. The maximum amount they can harvest is 200 lbs per day with the best fishing grounds limited to 135 lbs. These are generally true day boat scallops and can potentially reach the end user within hours of being harvested. However, this fishery is very seasonal. Fishing starts in mid December and ends by mid March, with the majority of the product landed in the first month of the season. The total catch is less than 400,000 lbs. This represents less than 3/4 of 1% of the total annual scallop harvest in the U.S. Maine is the primary resource for scallops harvested by divers. It is important to note that of the 300+ active scallop licenses in Maine, only about 1 in 5 is a diver license, and the licensees rarely catch their limit of 200/135 lbs. It is doubtful that these 60+ divers are supplying the entire country with the diver scallops many customers think they are buying. In fact, much of this product is consumed in Maine. Diving is allowed in other states along the East Coast, but it is primarily a recreational fishery. A few of these divers may sell product commercially but the quantities are insignificant.
The quality of any scallop is entirely dependent on how it is handled immediately after it is caught. Poorly handled Maine Diver caught product might be no better (or possibly worse) than product from the offshore fleet. Buyers should not discount product landed from larger vessels, which are well equipped to supply high quality scallops, especially if they are harvested in the Closed Areas. Scallops, which contain sand, shell fragments, seaweed, etc, are not necessarily fresh or dry. Properly handled scallops washed in seawater before they are packed should be free of all these defects. U10/lb size diver scallops are practically non-existent. The few that are landed here in Maine are always culled out by the fishermen and sold to a few companies in Maine that pay very high prices. Due to the short catch season, it is only possible to buy fresh scallops in Maine from mid December until mid March, and always at premium prices.
It is our hope that the information above will be helpful to buyers and give them a better understanding of the scallop industry and the product they purchase.
Prepared By: Dana Temple
Dana has worked in the scallop industry for 34 years and is presently the chair of the Scallop Advisory Council in Maine.