Recreational Scalloping on Nantucket Island

scallopDuring September and October with their cool nights and warm days on Nantucket, one the island’s most cherished activities of the year is recreational scalloping.

Nantucket is unique along the East Coast in that its waters support one of only a handful of commercially viable bay scallop populations.

Known for their unique, sweet delicious flavor, Nantucket Bay Scallops are easily obtained from Nantucket’s harbors during the recreational scallop season, which begins on or about the first day of October. The season lasts six months and parallels the commercial season that starts on Nov. 1 each year. Both seasons end on March. 31.

When To Go Scalloping

The best of the recreational scallop season is the first two or three weeks of October when harbor waters are still relatively warm, usually hovering in the mid- to high 60s. Warm days that can approach the low 70s and, if we’re lucky, low winds, make for great recreational scalloping. These scallops are much smaller than the dinner-plate size sea scallop shells and generally reside in shallow, inshore waters within eelgrass beds.

How to Harvest Scallops

You can harvest one bushel per week, Wednesday through Sunday using a variety of methods and equipment. The most popular way is by pushrake. A 12- 13-foot pole fitted with a rectangle of rebar with netting dangling from it is used to push along the bottom at an angle. The iron rebar in front causes the scallops to flip into the netting dragging behind. When it feels full, you pull the pole out of the water and pick out the adult scallops, which are identified by a raised, well-defined growth ring just under a half an inch up its shell or by the scallop being 2.5 inches or taller.

Scallops are collected in a bushel basket sitting inside a car tire inner tube tied to the basket, which is then tied to the scalloper with a length of rope. Scallops can also be collected using a view box, a floating wooden box with a section of plexi-glass on its bottom. Scallopers move along in the shallow water spotting their quarry through the clear bottom and then retrieving it with a long-handled dip net. Or you can don a wetsuit, mask, swim fins and with or without a tank of air/breathing regulator, dive underwater to handpick your catch from the bottom. You’re also allowed to use a dip net on a pole from a boat, but aren’t permitted to dredge from your scallopers during the recreational season as commercial scallopers do.

What You Will Need Before You Go

Start off your scalloping adventure by getting an annual recreational license on the first floor of the Public Safety Building at 4 Fairgrounds Road that cost $25 for Nantucket residents and $100 for non-residents. There is also a non-resident recreational license good for one week for $50. These licenses can only be used by those who purchased them and the license button must be worn somewhere on your clothing while scalloping.

Pushrakes, bushel baskets, waders, rubber gloves and opening knives can be obtained at Brant Point Marine next to the town pier, Nantucket Tackle, and Barry Thurston’s Tackle Shop. For advice on where to start your scalloping adventure, ask the staff of the outfitters mentioned above or, if you have the time, pay a visit to Nantucket’s marine lab in the former U.S. Coast Guard boathouse on Brant Point and seek out Tara Riley, the town’s shellfish biologist.

The recreational scallop season, first organized and sanctioned by the town in February 1976, can last right through until the end of the commercial season, but the water becomes too cold unless you have a thick wetsuit or insulated waders. And also because the commercial scalloping fleet will drag their dredges in as close to the shore as they can at high tide to get all of the scallops that they can catch. So, make the most of the recreational-only month of October.

Good luck out there!

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