If you love sea scallops, then winter really is the most wonderful time of the year, because that’s when scallop season opens in Maine. In order to understand why Maine scallops are so prized, it’s important to know how most other North Atlantic sea scallops are harvested. More than 95 percent of scallops are harvested year-round from large boats that spend a week or more at sea hauling in thousands of pounds of scallops in waters ranging from North Carolina to Canada. Because scallops don’t live long in their shells, they must be shucked on the boat. Usually stored on ice in mesh bags, the shucked scallops can easily absorb water from the melting ice, which can dilute their flavor. Plus, some scallops get soaked in a whitening and preserving solution, which also artificially plumps them. Excess water can inflate scallops’ price per pound and can affect how well they sear.
Scallops harvested in Maine water don’t see ice time or chemical preservation. Here’s why: Maine scallops can be harvested only in winter, when the dredging of their beds does not interfere with lobster traps. Due to strict regulations established to save a depleting resource, Maine scallop permits also require that scallops be harvested within 3 miles of shore and limit the daily catch to 135 pounds per boat, which means boats go out and back in a day. Aside from being incredibly fresh with a sweet, delicate flavor, these “dayboat” scallops are kept cold naturally thanks to the wintry weather, so they don’t get put on ice.
What’s a diver scallop?
Chances are you’ve seen scallops described on a restaurant menu as “diver” scallops. Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s not true. That’s because diver scallops, harvested by hand by a scuba diver, are quite rare and account for less than 1 percent of all domestically harvested scallops. While no different from the scallops caught by dragging, diver scallops tend to be big, handled with great care, and sold within hours of coming out of the water, resulting in the highest quality. Because Maine has a vast coastline that’s too rocky for dredging, most real diver scallops hail from there.