For the first time in five years, the town of Mattapoisett is extending the season for harvesting bay scallops in the outer harbor.
The Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen voted last Tuesday to allow scalloping until the end of April and to increase local quotas for fishermen.
“The local scallop population has been strong this year,” said Mattapoisett Town Administrator Michael J. Gagne. “The fishermen out there have been reporting good catches. . . . It’s the first time we’ve been able to [extend the season] since 2008, so we’re very pleased.”
It could well be an even better season for the handful of commercial fishermen who dredge Mattapoisett waters. Not only will they be able to fish for an extra month, they will also be allowed to take twice as many scallops, as the town is raising the daily catch limit from five to 10 bushels during April.
The bay scallop population can vary from year to year, and this has been a “particularly good year” for the mollusk in Mattapoisett, said Mike Hickey, chief biologist for the state’s shellfish program.
Unlike quahogs, which can survive for many decades, the life span of bay scallops is only 18 to 22 months, explained Hickey. They reach maturity when they are one year old, and most only spawn once in their lifetime.
State officials gave the green light to Mattapoisett to extend the season so fishermen can harvest the mature scallops available. Such a move makes sense because the adults “will die in the next month and a half anyway,” said Hickey.
“Buzzards Bay, over the last five or six years, has seen an uptick in scallop landings,” he said. “They’ve been good in Bourne, Falmouth; they’ve had a good year in Mattapoisett and Marion, and there’s been a fair amount in Wareham this year.”
The bay scallop (Argopecten irradians) has a long history in Southeastern Massachusetts that goes back to Colonial times, when settlers collected them by hand at low tide. Recreational scallop-seekers continue this tradition today on local shorelines, where they wade through shallow waters with baskets in hand.
Bay scallops grow quickly, and they are smaller than sea scallops, which live in deeper, colder waters. Bay scallops are typically found around muddy sand and eelgrass. They can be recognized by their familiar round grooved shell, which can grow up to 4 inches across.
According to Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries records, total bay scallop landings in Massachusetts reached upwards of 150,000 bushels a year through most of the 1970s and hit 220,812 bushels per year in 1982. Landings of bay scallops declined through the 1990s — 16,104 bushels were harvested in 1997 — then bounced back (85,567 bushels in 2003), and then plunged again. In 2009, according to the most recent data available, statewide landings of bay scallops totaled 33,943 bushels, according to state records.
Bay scallops are a precious commodity. At Turk’s Seafood, a fish market and restaurant on Marion Road in Mattapoisett, bay scallops were recently selling for $24 per pound — that is, when they were in stock. Last Wednesday, Turk’s didn’t have any to sell.
The scalloping season in Mattapoisett begins in mid-October and typically goes until April 1. A shellfish permit is required to harvest scallops, which must be mature and have an annual growth line on their shell. Until now, commercial permit holders can take five bushels a day, six days a week.
Scallopers will now be allowed to harvest in the outer harbor until April 30 and take 10 bushels a day, said Kathy Massey, the town’s natural resource officer. She said they will be limited to the outer harbor only.
“There’s not a lot [of bay scallops] in the inner harbor, so there’s no need to be in there, tearing up the bottom,” said Massey.
She said Mattapoisett’s bay scallop population varies. “Scallops come and go. They move. You never know,” she said.
This year, Massey said she went out and did a survey and “we found it was enough to extend the season.”
The seven commercial scallopers in town welcomed the extra month and increased limit, she said. “They’re very happy.”