Dayboat scallops.  Diver scallops.  Dry scallops. Drag-caught scallops. Farmed scallops. What??

Most people don’t know what these terms mean, and to make it even more complicated, no one polices their usage.  There’s a TON of fraud associated with the terms “diver” “dry” and “dayboat” scallops.  But even though these terms are often used nefariously, I think you should at least know what they’re SUPPOSED to mean.  So here’s a primer:

There are a number of commercial scallop fisheries in the US targeting several species of scallop, but by far the largest fishery is that of the giant sea scallop, aka Placopecten magellanicus, the “sea scallop”. Giant sea scallops are fished from Canada down to the waters off Cape Hatteras.
Maine has had a commercial fishery for scallops since the early 1800’s, but it produces a very small percentage of US sea scallops. True Maine scallops are defined as those scallops caught in Maine waters, which means the waters from Maine’s shoreline out to 3 miles.  Maine generally produces somewhere between 1% and 2% of US sea scallops. An even tinier amount of sea scallops are harvested in MA and NH state waters.  Really, Maine is the only state with a significant inshore sea scallop fishery, and we fish very differently (see below).
The remaining (roughly 98%) of US sea scallops come from the federal fishery, which takes place in the waters from 3 miles and beyond.  The Federal scallop fishery has 3 permit types for vessels targeting scallops.  Here’s what you need to know about them:
Each year fisheries managers examine surveys of the productive beds from the Gulf of Maine to the Mid Atlantic and estimate what they believe can be sustainably harvested (it’s usually somewhere between 35 and 60 million pounds)  Then they divide that harvest this way:
  • TRIP BOATS: 95 percent of the quota is allocated to the DAS (Days at Sea) – vessels.  Their allocation comes in the form of a certain number of days they’re allowed to fish, plus a certain number of trips into productive access areas.  When fishing in open areas their travel time counts against the amount of time they’re allowed to fish, so they tend to stay out on long trips  – if it takes 20 hours to steam to a spot, they want to stay there a while before steaming back.  They can fish in any open area at any time throughout the year and can take as many pounds as they want. If they’re fishing in an access area they’re limited to 18,000 pounds.  While fishing they store their catch in cloth bags buried in ice, which melts and can soak into the scallops. They sometimes bring in tens of thousands of pounds from one trip.
  • DAYBOATS: 5 percent of the quota is allocated to the IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) fleet – “dayboats”. Their quota comes in the form of a set number of pounds they can harvest.  They can fish in any open area any time of year but can only harvest 600 pounds per trip.
  • Northern Gulf of Maine Dayboats: Just to complicate matters, there’s a super tiny fishery in the Northern Gulf of Maine (roughly Boston Harbor north to the Canadian line).  This fishery has an entirely separate quota, which in recent years has been less than 200,000 pounds.  The fishery opens April 1 and closes when the quota is reached (usually in May). These boats can only fish in the Northern Gulf of Maine and can only harvest 200 pounds per trip.  Incidentally, these NGOM boats are who I’ve been advocating for for the past 10 years – we had to fight to preserve this fishery.
So that’s what comes from federal waters. But then in Maine, an additional 300,000 to 800,000 -pounds of scallops are harvested each year.  We do things very differently: our commercial fishermen have to stay within 3 miles of shore and they can only bring in 90 or 135 pounds at a time depending on where they fish.  That means scallops are landed within hours, not days. Maine harvesters come in three varieties:
  • Draggers: Maine’s drag season is determined each year but basically it lasts between 55 and 70 days (depending on the area) that can occur between December 1 and April 15. Draggers can fish any open day and are limited to either 15 gallons (roughly 135 pounds) or 10 gallons (90 pounds) depending on fishing area.  They bring in over 95% of Maine scallops.
  • Divers: Maine divers get the same number of days to fish as the draggers, but their calendar is different – their days can select occur between November and April. They’re also limited to either 15 gallons or 10 gallons depending on area. Divers bring in less than 5% of Maine’s landings, which constitute less than 2% of landings overall, so we’re talking a TINY fraction of US sea scallops. The important take-home from this is that the VAST majority of scallops labeled “diver scallops” were actually harvested by draggers. And the fraud is so pervasive that some reputable agencies actually define “diver scallop” as a scallop that hasn’t been treated with chemicals.


  • Aquaculturists: Maine now has sea farmers growing scallops.  They can harvest any time of year but if they’re selling the whole scallop they have to test them for biotoxins.  The amount they’re bringing in is miniscule – way less than one one tenth of one percent, but we hope it will increase.
So you have trip boats, which bring in the vast majority of US sea scallops.  Then you have dayboats, which can be divided into 3 categories: IFQ boats, NGOM boats and Maine boats.  Then you have divers.  And now you have sea farmers.
Unfortunately, no one controls how these terms are used.  And then in addition to the different categories above, you have:
  • “Dry”: Theoretically, a dry scallop is one that hasn’t been soaked in chemicals like sodium tripolyphosphate.  But, as with the term “diver scallop”, no one actually polices who uses this term, so it’s abused so often as to be essentially meaningless.  I’ve seen “dry scallops” that have clearly been soaked in chemicals, and I’ve heard of companies who call a scallop “dry” as long as it’s soaked for just a few hours as opposed to 24 hours or longer.  Also, it’s important to remember that if you’re buying scallops from trip boats, they’ve been sitting on ice, absorbing water over the course of the trip.
So what does this all mean?  Well, it means you should buy scallops from someone you can trust.  Ideally you’ll buy them directly from the fisherman.  But if you can’t do that, you should buy them from a reputable fishmonger, preferably one who can tell you who harvested them, on what day, and from what area.
Any questions?  Just e-mail me.  I LOVE talking about scallops!