Baymen and fishmongers on the East End are reporting a great start to Peconic Bay scallop season, which opened in most local waters at dawn Nov. 3. They’re hopeful that scallops will be plentiful through the winter, a rare treat for an industry that has faced decades of iffy harvesting since the brown tide wiped out the scallop population in the mid-1980s.
Across the bays this week, people in the industry reported a healthy crop of large scallops, which they attributed to the cold of last winter and the lack of harmful algae blooms during the cool summer.
Southold Fish Market owner Charlie Manwaring said the catch has been so plentiful that he turned away 150 bushels of scallops per day the first couple days after the season opened — primarily because he couldn’t find enough workers to open them.
“We had so many scallops, it was a fiasco,” he said on Thursday. “The first night I didn’t get out of here until midnight. I got out last night at about 9:30 and tonight I hope to be out by 10.”
He even placed a sign on his front lawn saying “scallop openers wanted,” but found few takers for a job that few now know how to do.
“It’s easy to catch them and drop them off. The hard part is opening them,” he said. “The average openers are older. We had one kid who was 21 who came to open, but the rest were in their 50s to 70s. When I was a kid growing up, you opened with your dad or your grandpa. My kids are going to have no choice but to learn it. Eventually, we’ll get the openers back if it keeps getting better.”
“There are scallops from Flanders down to Montauk,” he said. “It’s good. I think we’re going to have scallops all winter. We’re seeing them in spots we haven’t seen them in in years.”
The Southold Fish Market is retailing scallops at $15 per pound, “the cheapest we’ve seen in the last eight to 10 years,” he said.
Mr. Manwaring said the last good year was four or five years ago, but this year scallopers are seeing them in spots where they haven’t been seen in years, which was a surprise to fishermen who saw few baby scallop “bugs,” which would be harvestable this season, when scoping out the waters late last season.
“I think we had a very cold winter last year, with a mild cool summer and not much brown tide,” he said. “There was no rain, no runoff, very little anything. When Mother Nature wants us to have something, she gives it back to us.”
Kenny Clark of Shelter Island scallops full-time through the winter, and he has his fingers crossed that this will be a year.
“I think it’s going to be a decent season,” he said. “There seems to be scallops everywhere this year. Everyone’s getting their limits. I think there would be enough scallops around to work all winter long if we don’t get frozen in by ice.”
“It’s a lot better than last year,” he added. “There was a better set. There was no red tide, so it was a good spawning season.”
Stuart’s Seafood Market co-owner Charlotte Sasso in Amagansett said Thursday that scallopers “are getting their limit without too much hard work” this week, and scallops are about a third less expensive than they were opening week last year. Stuart’s is retailing scallops for $22 per pound.
Commercial scallopers are allowed 10 bushels of scallops per person, with a limit of 20 bushels per boat, one of the primary reasons you’ll find just two baymen on most scallop boats in the Peconics.
East Hampton’s town-controlled waters do not open to scalloping until Nov. 10, one week later than most other local and state waters, meaning scallopers there have been dredging farther north this week while waiting for town waters to open. Town wates include Napeague Harbor, which was a hotbed for scalloping last season.
The Peconic Bay scallop season continues through March 31.