It's a difficult way to make a living, but if you can survive the bed closures, scalloping is sometimes a lucrative business.
For fishermen, it keeps getting better and better. If you're a buyer or further down the distribution line, selling scallops is becoming increasingly hard.
Since the National Marine Fisheries started using rotating area closures to manage the fishery, the East Coast scallop fleet has been landing close to 60 million pounds of meat per year, a level that is at or near record historical highs. Over that same period, however, the average price paid to the boats has doubled from about $4 - $8 per pound.
One reason for the ballooning price of scallops is the steady growth of an export market, primarily to countries in the European Union. Over the past 10 years, U.S. exports of sea scallop meats have more than doubled from about 13 million pounds a year to almost 30 million pounds. Now that surging seafood demand in China has made that country a growing market for U.S. sea scallops, prices could head even higher.
On the import side, U.S. imports of sea scallops have declined about 50 percent over the past decade, another reason for the upward swing in prices. Supplies of sea scallops from Canada and Japan, the two main sources of sea scallops, have fallen from about 25 million pounds of meats to about 10 million pounds last year.
For buyers, over the past two years, the price of 20-30 count dry domestic scallops has risen from $8/lb. to $12/lb. That price might be killing sales; some restaurants have even taken it off their menus.
U.S.scallops were overfished in the past, causing massive closures in the 1990s. Since then, some of the areas have been reopened to controlled fishing. Stocks have recovered following years of strict conservation measures, Sea scallops grow quickly and mature young, which makes them particularly resistant to fishing pressure.
Most sea scallops fished in the U.S. are collected from the sandy or cobbled ocean floor with dredges, trawls, or rakes. Dredging for sea scallops often levels structural marine habitat. Some sea scallop habitats in the U.S. have been closed to dredging for several years, which is helping them recover.
The dredges commonly used to harvest scallops along America's Atlantic coast can result in the bycatch of sea turtles and finfish such as yellowtail flounder, skates, and monkfish, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Bycatch can also include undersized scallops as well as bottom-dwelling species such as cod and monkfish. In the mid-Atlantic region, endangered sea turtles have been caught in scallop gear. A gear modification involving rock chains may reduce sea turtle interactions but more data is still needed to be sure, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. In New England, dredges are required to have a minimum ring size and minimum twine top mesh size to reduce the amount of groundfish and juvenile scallop bycatch. Those numbers keep changing in order to make sure overfishing does not occur.
The sea scallop fishery in the U.S. now has maximum fishing days per year, rotating area closures to help stocks regenerate, and has regulated equipment to encourage sea scallop abundance. The risk to sea turtles is being addressed through restrictions on the number of fishing trips, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. The NMFS also reported that NOAA Fisheries Service is collaborating with the fishing industry on the testing a new design of scallop dredges, including the feasibility of turtle extruder devices for scallop trawls. In Peru, where sea scallops are hand-collected by divers, there are few regulations and little enforcement to protect the stocks.