Written by Jen Finn
Island out of season
Nantucket's historic bay scallop fishery has been in decline for many years. Is this the end, or just the end of a cycle?
By Mark Merchant
For 30 years, Martin "Martie" Mack has greeted the opening day of Nantucket Island's scallop season as bright-eyed and happy as only a fisherman can be. But opening day of the current season instead has Mack and roughly 60 other longtime scallopers facing the fact that the fishery, considered by many to be in a long decline, may finally be fished out. For years the Nantucket scallop fishery has been off-again with catches varying from abysmal to bountiful.
Up at 3:30 a.m. on the mound of sand no more than 110 feet high, sitting some 30 miles off the Massachusetts mainland, Mack leaves his slip at Straight Wharf on opening day before anyone else in the fleet. On the water it is cold and desolate, but Mack sits in his boat and watches.
"I watch the birds, I watch the water, I watch what's going on in nature around me," Mack says.
But at 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 1, the business of scalloping begins. Mack — and whoever else happens to be out on the water on that or any other given Monday through Saturday until March 31 — drops his dredges, puts his 20-foot wooden boat in gear, and drags the bottom for the ribbed bivalve Argopecten irradians, the Atlantic bay scallop.
Mack has his opening-day limit of five bushels by 8:30 a.m. A good first day isn't unusual; even bad seasons tend to have good first days.
"It's what comes after that varies a lot," Mack says. In 2009-10, he kept his boat in the water until March 31 but didn't fish every day. Last season, Mack says, "wasn't very good but I have seen much, much worse seasons. It started out well but quickly went downhill."
The 2010-11 season is so bad that early on, Mack is ready to hang up the dredges and move on.
"I was talking to an old local who has been scalloping here for close to 40 years. He told me he has never seen it this bad before. He also told me that he's pretty certain that the industry is over and probably will never rebound. I fear he is correct in his assumption. This is no surprise to anyone. We saw it coming for several years now," Mack says.
In 30 years of scalloping, Mack remembers years when 100,000 bushels — or boxes — were landed. Now David Fronzuto, the town's marine superintendent, harbormaster and shellfish warden, believes a successful season is when the fishery produces 15,000 bushels between Nov. 1 and March 31.
While the past two seasons produced more than 18,000 bushels islandwide, in 2007-08 the fleet landed just 9,000 bushels. Demand, however, has inflated the price during the 2010-11 season. Historically, the price for Nantucket scallops runs from a low of $7 to a high of $11 per pound. The price this year is $15.
National Fisherman Live: 3/10/15
In this episode, Online Editor Leslie Taylor talks with Mike McLouglin, vice president of Dunlop Industrial and Protective Footwear.
National Fisherman Live: 2/24/15
In this episode:
March date set for disaster aid dispersal
Oregon LNG project could disrupt fishing
NOAA tweaks gear marking requirement
N.C. launches first commercial/recreational dock
Spiny lobster traps limits not well received
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute is partnering with restaurants throughout the region for an Out of the Blue promotion of cape shark, also known as dogfish. Starting Friday, July 3 and running until Sunday, July 12, cape shark will be available at each participating restaurant during the 10-day event. Cape shark is abundant and well deserving of a wider market.
As a joint Gulf of Mexico states seafood marketing effort sails into the sunset, the program’s Marketing Director has left for a job in the private seafood sector. Joanne McNeely Zaritsky, the former Marketing Director of the Gulf State Marketing Coalition, has joined St. Petersburg, FL based domestic seafood processor Captain’s Fine Foods as its new business development director to promote its USA shrimp product line.