Togue BraWN is on a mission to get you hooked on Maine scallops. “I don’t think Maine scallops are better, I know Maine scallops are better. Not that I’m terribly biased or anything,” says the owner of Downeast Dayboat, a company based in Cape Elizabeth that works with fishermen to ship Maine scallops direct to customers within 24 hours of when they are caught.
“Maine’s fishery is very different. We’ve got small boats that have to stay within 3 miles of shore because they are licensed only locally. So they go out and go right back in,” says Brawn. She says the vast majority of scallops we see on the market are from trip-boats harvesting from federal waters, and those vessels go out for about a week at a time.
The former state fisheries manager for the Department of Marine Resources believes her home state’s scallops not only have better flavor, but give consumers more bang for their buck. “I would not say that the majority of them [supermarket scallops] are treated with a chemical. Certainly some are, but whether they are treated with chemicals or not, certainly they are waterlogged, because the way they transport them is buried in ice. So on the boat they are absorbing water, in transit they are absorbing water.”
As for Downeast Dayboat scallops? She says fishermen store their scallops in 5 gallon buckets, “so what they take out is just all pure scallop.” Brawn has dreams of drawing up a scallop map — similar to the wine maps of France — to show the variations in flavor throughout the Maine coast. “When I can, I ship people scallops from two different areas so they can taste the difference.” With a short and busy scallop season (December to April) — that’s subject to early closure — your best bet for getting mixed packs is if you order before Christmas.
With sustainable seafood a big issue, Brawn is proud of how Maine has turned around its fisheries since a low point in the 1990s. She says of her time as a fishery manager, “We made some huge changes. We cut the season in half, we implemented poundage limits — prior to that there had been no poundage limits at all, you could take as many as you wanted. We closed 20 percent of the coast to allow it to rebuild.”
As a daughter of a commercial fisherman, Brawn knew not everyone would be thrilled with the changes — at least at first. “They [the fishermen] put up a stink, I’ll be honest. But a lot of them realized that we needed to do something.”
Brawn says the overall results have been good for fishermen, and, of course, for her company. “I was with a guy once that dragged all day in Casco Bay and got 70 pounds. Now he drags two hours and you get your 135- pound limit.” For more information, call 207-838-1490 or go to www.downeastdayboat.com.