On Martha’s Vineyard fishing is a way of life, and not just the rod and reel kind. This time of year local fisherman, both hobbyists and commercial fisherman, are gearing up to hit the waters in search of the sweet seafood delicacies we call the Martha’s Vineyard bay scallops. When you think of creamy and fluffy New England scallops, there’s two different kinds to consider. The more common sea scallop is the largest scallop and can be obtained year-round. The medium- to smaller-size bay (or cape) scallop is available only a few months off-season and is the most coveted – tender, sweet, and oh, so fresh – and the kind we’re talking about here. These little marshmallows of the sea are one of the Island’s most popular and tastiest treats.
You might notice scalloping operations underway as you travel around the Island from October through March, it’s often happening in our ponds, harbors and lagoons. Scalloping is generally observed by an individual wading in the water with a large rake or net, or a boat dragging or pulling up a scallop dredge. If you’re lucky you could even see someone plucking a fresh one from the water and enjoying it raw–yes you can, and yes, they’re that good.
So how do you go about catching your own bay scallops? With permission of course, and the proper gear. A shellfish permit for both recreational and commercial fishing is required for the catch or removal of any shellfish from Vineyard waters. Permits are available at the respective town halls, in Vineyard Haven, West Tisbury, Edgartown, Aquinnah, Oak Bluffs and Chilmark. Each town has its own shellfish department, and shellfish constable whose job it is to enforce the state and town shellfish regulations, along with informing the public and media about any law changes, season openings and areas open and closed to shellfishing.
In Vineyard Haven for example the Vineyard Haven harbor (home to the Steamship Authority’s year round ferry terminal and the famous Black Dog restaurant) is currently open to both recreational and commercial permit holders, with the town’s Lagoon Pond following close behind. The Tisbury shellfish constable pushed back the dates this year based on the warm water temperatures. Safe scalloping requires cold waters, which means those fishing for them need to be properly suited up to withstand the conditions!
The minimum sizes for scallops are set by the state of Massachusetts. Shellfish smaller than the legal size are called “seed” and must be returned to the waters from which they were taken. To ensure the sustainability of them, a scallop must live through two summers to reach maturity, and a legal adult is identifiable by the raised “growth line” visible on its shell. Most scallops live in eelgrass beds and are harvested with drags or nets, and persistent fisherman sift through their ocean bounty to hand pluck those scallops that are good and ready.
If you're interested in obtaining a permit check out the local websites of the town you will be residing in: Vineyard Haven, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Chilmark, West Tisbury and Aquinnah. If you’re interested in simply savoring the goodness of our local fishermen’s hard work look for local Martha’s Vineyard bay scallops on the menus of our local restaurants and fish markets. Be sure to enjoy them and be grateful for all of the hard work and dedication that went into to getting them on to your plate!
It's my job to love this place, and it's no work at all.