« August 2009 Table of Contents
Top Species: Scallops
Atlantic fishery yielding bumper crop of jumbo shellfish
By John Snyder
August 01, 2009
Thanks to effective management, the Atlantic scallop fishery
appears to be sustainable and thriving and buyers are more than
happy to jump on board with vessel owners and processors to
share in the profits. Scallop landings for the 2008 fishing
year (March to March) exceeded 50 million pounds, besting a
projected 45 million pounds, according to Deirdre Boelke,
scallop plan coordinator for the New England Fisheries
Management Council (NEFMC) in Newburyport, Mass. Since the
opening of the 2009 season in March, fishing has been excellent
in all areas, both open and closed, and should exceed 2008
landings, says Boelke. Projected landings for 2009 have not
"There has been successful growth and a rebound of the
fishery. This year the total catch should be around 55 million
pounds," says Joe Furtado, executive VP of Eastern Fisheries in
New Bedford, Mass., whose company owns and operates 23 scallop
vessels and sells approximately 20 percent of all scallops
consumed in the United States. The company will maintain the
same fishing plan it followed in 2008 and hopes to benefit from
the additional fishing days afforded by the 2009 regulations,
In 2008 sea scallop vessels were allocated 35 days to fish
in open areas. That allocation was extended to 37 days this
year. In the so-called "closed areas" of Nantucket Lightship,
Area 2 (off Georges Bank), Elephant Trunk and Delmarva (off New
Jersey and the mid-Atlantic states) scallop vessels are granted
a total of five trips that allow three trips to Elephant Trunk,
one to Delmarva and one to Area 2/Nantucket Lightship. An
18,000-pound trip limit applies for all areas. Since the
establishment of these closed grounds, stocks have recovered
and are now yielding primarily large-count meats in the U10 and
10-20 range. Furtado says that of the 6 million pounds
allocated to Area 2, 95 percent are projected to be U10s.
In the open areas there is some mix of sizes, but overall
the scallops tend to run large. "Boats are getting as much as
3,500 pounds in the open areas, which is nearly double what
they were able to harvest five years ago," says Boelke. Trips
to the Elephant Trunk area off New Jersey are also resulting in
very good catch rates, Boelke says.
With such strong landings, New Bedford is certain to remain
the No. 1 U.S. seaport in terms of catch value, a distinction
that it has held for the last six years. In 2007 (the most
recent figures available from the National Marine Fisheries
Service), New Bedford scallop landings were valued at roughly
Dana Temple, a veteran scallop processor and owner of
Crescent Bay, a scallop wholesaler and importer in Cape
Elizabeth, Maine, says large count meats are a
"The entire fleet is working Area 2. There is a real push on
for large [sizes], the industry has gotten used to it. U10s and
10-20s are what drive the gallon business in the fresh market,"
Temple says, "and processors need to put away large scallops
for the winter."
Temple, who also serves as chair of Maine's Scallop Advisory
Council, recognizes the success of offshore management by the
NEFMC and would like to see the Maine council come up with
similar plans for the state's waters by closing off areas and
limiting fishing pressure.
The Canadian offshore scallop fishery is also thriving.
Colin MacDonald, co-founder and CEO of Clearwater Seafood in
Bedford, Nova Scotia, says that stocks on the Canadian side of
Georges Bank are healthy.
"This is the best recruitment in the history of the fishery.
Two- to three-year-old juveniles are booming and catch rates
are good," says MacDonald. Clearwater, which holds 50 percent
of the Canadian sea scallop quota, specializes in FAS, IQF
Atlantic sea scallops as well as Marine Stewardship Council
certified scallops from Argentina.
Large count meats,
With such strong landings of large-count meats, prices are
expected to soften with the increase in volume and as quality
is compromised by mid- to late-summer spawning, when the
scallops tend to be milky in texture. When the season opened in
March, U10s were bringing an ex-vessel price of around $8 per
pound, and now, halfway into the fishing year, prices have
softened with volume to around $7 per pound. Temple says that
$6.75 to $7 "would be an ideal price for processors to pay for
U10s and $6 for 10-20s" as they build up inventory to cover
Bob Fitzsimmons, owner of Trisome Foods, a frozen scallop
importer/exporter based in Stratham, N.H., says "business has
been solid" since the beginning of the year. "There has been a
good supply of [domestic] product and customers recognize that
scallops are a good value," says Fitzsimmons. Most of Trisome's
business is now program, which has largely replaced the trading
of years past.
Echoing the fresh market, Fitzsimmons agrees that large
sizes abound. IQF U10 dry domestic scallops are trading at
around $7.85 per pound, 10-20s at $7.50 and 20-30s between
$7.25 and $7.50 (Fitzsimmons says that there are no 30-40s to
speak of). Processed (soaked) scallops are trading at $6.25 to
$6.50 per pound for U10s, $5.65 for 10-20s and $4.65 to $5 for
Jeff Lang, owner of Sea Born Products in New Bedford, is
bullish on the scallop market.
"Scallops don't seem to be as affected by the weak economy
as other seafood products," says Lang. "I have seen haddock
prices drop and shrimp is down, but scallops are strong."
Recent New Bedford landings, including late June trips to
the closed areas, have resulted in single-day hails on the
Whaling City Seafood Display Auction as high as 160,000 pounds
of U10s. "And that does not include trips that didn't sell
through the auction," says Lang.
U10s are important for fresh gallon sales. Some sellers make
it a condition of the sale that their customers take a mix of
smaller sizes like 20-30s to go along with a U10 to 10-20
order. Any softening of the market is related more to quality
than availability, he adds.
Ray Swenton, president of Bristol Seafood, a major fresh
scallop processor and supermarket supplier in Portland, Maine,
agrees that the resource is healthy and that the market is
strong. However, Swenton cautions buyers that there "is a lot
of misinformation out there," especially when it comes to
It's important for buyers to compare "apples to apples" when
making purchasing decisions, says Swenton. Pricing can vary
greatly depending on quality as it relates to time of catch
(i.e. when spawning), trip length, processing (re-freshed an d
/ or chemically treated with sodium tripolyphosphate) and catch
area. Buyers must be selective, he adds, stressing that if the
price is "too good" the product may be compromised in some
The import market
Swenton says that Japanese scallop prices are tied to
domestic landings, although the Japanese will have an
"overabundance" this season. Export sales of larger scallops to
Europe should still be good given the exchange rate and the
fact that European buyers prefer U.S. and Canadian sea scallops
to Japanese product.
With regard to smaller-sized scallops, Bristol has shied
away from using Chinese product, especially in retail, because
of quality uncertainties and the bad PR surrounding Chinese
food products. Instead, the processor has been relying on
scallops from Peru and Mexico to fill that niche and has been
using a full range of sizes.
Other importers like Will Moehrke of Omega Sea in Newport,
R.I., concur with Swenton about the Chinese PR impact on
imported scallops. Many of Omega Sea's customers have switched
to Chilean scallops since that country's conservation ban on
fishing was lifted Feb. 1.
Steve Barndollar, president of Seatrade International, a
major import/exporter in Portsmouth, N.H., says "business has
been up and down."
"Last year when the euro was valued at $1.50 to $1.55,
export sales for scallops and fish were great. Today, sales
have slowed as
a result of the
exchange rate and
economy. Also, European buyers want 10-20s and not U10s, which
is the predominant size today, but our fresh [domestic] market
On the import side, especially where Japanese scallops are
concerned, prices are firming, he adds. As the largest U.S.
buyer of North Hokkaido scallops, Barndollar is bullish on the
Successful management has helped build a resource that
appears to be truly sustainable. Overall, scallops remain an
excellent seafood value for the knowledgeable buyer, not only
in terms of price and availability, but also for their
durability, versatility, shelf life and customer
Despite these tough economic times, when it comes to
scallops, "People would rather pay for quality," says Mike
Checklick, VP and fresh buyer for Braun Seafood, a wholesale
distributor and retailer in Cutchogue, N.Y. And with a reliable
network of suppliers, that's just what his customers get.
Find other SeaFood Business articles with scallops here.John Snyder is a writer and photographer in Fryeburg,