Scarce bay scallops are costly

While previous year was bountiful, 2018 offers ‘slim pickin’s’ at as much as $38 per pound.

Bay scallops cost $30 per pound at Net Result Monday, down $5 from last week. In Menemsha they were $38 per pound Monday. Throughout Vineyard waters they are proving scarce.

Last year the Vineyard bay scallop harvest boomed. Prices hovered around $20 per pound. Not so this year. Bay scallops are scant, and at Menemsha Fish Market they were retailing at $38 per pound on Monday.

Owner Stanley Larsen told The Times bay scallops are very scarce this year, and he set his price to reflect what is being charged off-Island.

“Nobody went out today,” Larsen said Monday morning, “nice day, too — because there’s no scallops.”

Until recently, bay scallops were $35 per pound at the Net Result in Vineyard Haven. As of Monday, they hovered at $30 per pound, which still ranked as the second most expensive seafood there after fresh lobster meat, at $50 per pound.

“Last week I had no trouble getting rid of them,” Net Result owner Louie Larsen said. “This week people are balking at the price. I’d rather see them be cheaper for the consumer’s sake.”

Larsen said Aquinnah opens Monday, so maybe more scallops will hit the market. He noted Nantucket is worse off than the Vineyard, and folks have sought him out for seasonal work as a result.

“I’ve actually had guys call from Nantucket call to ask if there’s any shucking over here,” he said.

Larsen pointed to Westport as a factor in why scallop prices were much lower in 2017. He said the town enjoyed its first big harvest in 30 years, and subsequently dumped the lot into the commercial market.

Chris Leonard, director of marine services for the town of Westport, told The Times Westport did indeed have its best year in 2017 a long while — since 1985 specifically. This year, not so much.

“It’s a bust here in Westport,” he said. “What are we catching? Nothing.”

Westport harvested over 10,500 bushels in 2017, he said. All of those scallops, he noted, were unshucked. Those who had shucking house licenses for “cuttin’ scallops,” as he put it, let them lapse last year, so all scallops sold from Westport were in the shell.

Leonard said boom and bust years come back-to-back, in his estimation.

“Notoriously, after big seasons, it goes down to nothing,” he said. For example, he said after the super 1985 season, 1986 “stunk.” Gangbuster seasons are “usually 20-, 25-year events,” he said.

Leonard said he doesn’t buy into any one town being responsible for setting market prices in bay scallops, and considers it a commercial tactic by wholesalers to put places like Nantucket or Westport in the hot seat any given year.

Over at the Nantucket Fish and Meat Market, cafe manager Julie Cartularo described the bay scallop situation as “pretty slim pickin’s here.”

On Monday, bay scallops retailed at $32.99 per pound where she works.

Back on the Vineyard at Edgartown Meat and Fish, which like Nantucket Fish and Meat is owned by Sean and Erin Ready, bay scallops retailed at $27.99 per pound on Monday, according to manager Sam Shattuck. “They were $31 [per pound] last week,” he said.
In Boston, Red’s Best owner Jared Auerbach said scallop volume is down a lot. “We’re definitely seeing less volume — significantly less volume — than last year,” he said.

Auerbach’s operation is primarily wholesale, but he does run a small retail outlet in the city, where he said bay scallop prices have ranged from $34 to $38 per pound.

Dave Grunden, shellfish constable for Oak Bluffs, sees nitrogen-induced protozoa blooms as the culprit behind the paucity of bay scallops in Sengekontacket and Lagoon ponds, which he said opened Oct. 13 and 27 respectively.

“Very few people going,” he said of scallopers.

Grunden said the blooms created by the protozoa are “enough to turn the surface of the water a rusty red color.” This year his office purchased measuring equipment and found the count of the protozoa to be as high as 1,800 cells per milliliter of water. “It’s similar to red tide, but it’s not red tide — not hazardous to humans. This one is hazardous to the bay scallops.”

Compounding the availability of the scallops, Grunden said, Tisbury closed its portion of Lagoon Pond in order to protect its shallow seedbeds from being trodden on by dipnetters. Tisbury shellfish constable Danielle Ewart said Tisbury’s closure was also to protect deeper water seed from scallop drags and because there weren’t many adult scallops to harvest.