It used to be a well-settled way of life on the Vineyard, and for many Islanders it still is: when the calendar changes from September to October it is time to get out on the saltwater ponds, either in waders or a small boat and peer into the shallows, looking for clusters of bay scallops nestled in underwater windrows of eelgrass. For commercial scallopers it is time to tend the drags, winch, culling board and outboard motor on small boats used to go scalloping. For family scallopers the gear is simpler: waders, a dip net and peep sight are all that’s needed. And a shellfish license of course.
The rewards are great: a tidy income for the commercial scallopers (and they earn it in a hard day’s work out on the pond in all weather conditions), and delicious, healthful food to put on the table and in the freezer for the long winter ahead. Nothing tastes better than a plate of pan-seared bay scallops showered with a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground black pepper. Add brown rice and a pile of bright green steamed broccoli or oven-roasted brussels sprouts from your garden or an Island farm, and you’ve got living local at its best.
Family scalloping began yesterday in Edgartown and opens this month in other towns. The commercial season begins a bit later in the month and into early November, depending on the town.
Pollution and poor water quality in coastal ponds have led to the decline of bay scallop populations from Long Island to Cape Cod, and as a result wild bay scallops have become a rarity. The Vineyard and Nantucket are two of the last places where native bay scallops are harvested commercially, and they too have seen a dramatic decline in scallop populations over the past two decades.
But the past few years have seen a bit of rebound, thanks in no small part to a concerted effort by shellfish biologists and fishermen to improve and protect the health of the ponds, and to develop the same kind of seeding programs that have been effective with quahaugs. Still in their infancy and pioneered by the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and its longtime director Rick Karney, these seeding programs need steady funding to grow and flourish.
Think about that the next time you go scalloping or buy bay scallops at the local fish market, and consider making a tax-deductible donation to the shellfish group. The address is P.O. Box 1552, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
You will be supporting the preservation of an Island way of life. Is there any better cause?