US scallop fishermen bring in roughly 45 million pounds of scallops each year. Roughly 95% of these scallops are caught on “trip boats” that fish offshore for a week or more at a time. As scallops are caught they’re buried in ice, which melts over the course of the trip and soaks into the scallops. That adds weight and dilutes flavor, so you end up paying more money for less scallop.
Maine’s fishery is completely different. Our fishermen have to stay within 3 miles of shore and can take no more than 135 pounds per day. They fish for only a few hours each day; and since they’re fishing in winter, the catch stays cool on deck with no need for ice. Also important is the fact that Maine’s cold, rich waters produce scallops of exceptional taste and texture. While it’s generally accepted that an oyster’s taste and texture is dramatically influenced by where it grows, people don’t realize the same is true of scallops. And the reason people don’t realize it is because they’re used to water-logged trip-boat scallops from generic “offshore” harvest areas.
Buyer beware: don’t trust the terms “diver” or “dry”
Diver scallops: A lot of people think the best way to obtain a super-tasty scallop is to ask for a diver scallop. Here’s why that’s not true:
- Processors and dealers can label their scallops however they want. Maine produces less than 10% of Maine sea scallops. Far less than one tenth of one percent of sea scallops are actually caught by divers. But how often have you seen “diver scallops” sold in stores or restaurants? How is that possible? Because no one investigates these claims.
- When it comes to scallops, what matters is where they were caught and how they were handled. Downeast Dayboat sells premium Maine scallops caught by draggers and divers. They’re all sustainably harvested, and they’re all delicious.
Dry scallops: You may have heard of “dry pack” scallops, which implies water has not been added. Here are two reasons to be skeptical of this term:
- The vast majority of US sea scallops come from trip boats. Since the scallops absorb melting ice during storage on the vessels, their moisture content at offload is often several points higher than when they were caught. That means even “fresh off the boat,” they’ve already taken up water
- Other than a few reporters, no one actually investigates claims of dry versus wet. Processors and dealers can put whatever they want on the label. While some are certainly honest, others are not.