From the May 23, 1952 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

If you were to choose any one Island occupation that was peculiar to the Vineyard and the coastal area surrounding it, scalloping would undoubtedly run a strong race for first place. Over the years Edgartown probably comes up with the largest consistent average catch of all the Island towns, and during the season which ended on April 1 of this year well over 200 residents of this town had at one time or another been engaged in taking this toothsome shellfish.

A long time member of the Edgartown fleet, and one of the relatively few shellfishermen who pursue this occupation from the beginning to the end of each season, Percy D. West has lowered a scallop drag every year for the past thirty seasons. Discussing the intricacies of this type of shellfish on a recent afternoon with a Gazette representative, as they both relaxed on the lawn near his home, he said: “When we moved here fifty years ago, when I was a small child, I remember there were probably thirty boats then, all under sail, that were probably doing it a long time before that, too.”

He surmises that scallops must have been popular on the Vineyard for hundreds of years as a local dish, since he has found scallop shells mingled with arrowheads in various spots along the bay.

Listing the equipment used by the scalloper, he said the average man today probably uses a chain-type drag and a small boat powered by an outboard motor, whereas catboats and a blade-type drag were standard equipment of scallopers in years gone by.

“One of the secrets of scalloping is the right speed of boat,” he said, since excessive speed will keep the drag off the bottom, and the opposite causes it to scrape more than it should. The location of day to day fishing is influenced strongly by the weather and good scallop beds vary in location from one year to the next. He considers Cape Pogue Pond, the inner harbor, and Sengekontacket Pond as the most popular scalloping areas with Edgartown fishermen.

The return in a season of scalloping is not as great as it used to be, he said, due to the fact that so many short-timers are out for the cream of the crop. Weather has a strong bearing on the take, also since about only four days fishing a week can be averaged during the winter months.

He laughed as he said, “We don’t lose as many days as we ought to sometimes. I was caught out in that bad blizzard last winter.“

“During the first few weeks of the season,” Mr. West said, “anyone can get their limit in a couple of hours each day, but in the last couple of months you almost have to know the bottom as you could read it, in order to take a full catch.”

He called the bottom around the Island exceptionally favorable for scallop beds and said, “although the Cape scallops may be all right, some of the bottoms over there don’t compare with the ones we have.”

Voicing the common opinion that prices per gallon during the past season “weren’t too good,” he recalled that back “in the days when a dollar was a dollar I’ve even got $7 a gallon in January. Those were days when a fisherman could lay aside a little money. Although I can remember when $2.50 or $2.75 was a good price.”

He went on, “There’s hardly anyone now who fishes the year around. It used to be, the day we took the scallop gear off, we started quahauging, and then in the summer rigged out boats for party fishing. There’s been such a change and so many private boats and yachts, that most scallopers have other part time work.”

He is one of the few party boat men left, he said, but uses his boat much less for this purpose than formerly. “Now there are the regular sport fishing boats that are better adapted to it.” Quahauging has been very good some years, but never to the extent of scalloping, while clamming has run a poor third.

With true local pride, Mr. West says that Edgartown is one of the biggest producers of bay scallops on the coast, and furthermore that the local product is especially good in quality. “The seasons are up and down,” he said. “This year we were ahead of Nantucket’s, and a couple of years ago they had three times as many as we did. Generally, Edgartown takes the biggest catch of the Island town, although this year they caught a pile of smaller ones up at Menemsha — there probably won’t be so many up there next years.”

Unlike the average shellfisherman, Mr. West sells part of his catch to a Bridgewater restaurant, with the remainder going to the local dealers.

Expressing his own feelings on scalloping as a job and perhaps explaining why he has worked at it for thirty years, Mr. West said, “It’s a fascinating game, if you like it, and a free and independent life — you are your own boss and usually it’s remunerative enough to be attractive. If you don’t like it, it must be drudgery.” Repeating the fact that although each season’s catch varies from year to year in quantity, quality and price, he expressed the belief that scalloping would continue to be good in the future.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox