Alaska’s fishery for weathervane scallops got underway on July 1. Just two boats will target the pricey shellfish in areas from Yakutat to the Bering Sea.
Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches. It can take up to five years for scallops to reach market size, and they can live up to 20 years. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is closely monitored by onboard observers –
“All boats must carry observers – it’s a heavy cost and hard for us to do at around $350-$400 a day. But it is mandatory and we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal.”
Jim Stone is owner of the vessel Ocean Hunter whose crew catches, packages and freezes the shucked meats in the Alaska scallop fishery which remains open until February.
Scallop meats are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed. They are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen $9 to $15 per pound.
Alaska’s catch has dipped to 265,000 pounds of shucked meats, down about 20,000 pounds from last year. Prior to that, the harvest had been in the 500,000 pound range for many years. The recent drop is due in part to a parasite that affected the quality of the catch.
The catch breakdown is 145,000 pounds for the Yakutat region; 6,300 for Prince William Sound; 85,000 pounds for the Kodiak district; 22,500 for the Alaska Peninsula; 5,000 pounds at Dutch Harbor and 7,500 pounds of shucked meats from the Bristol Bay/Bering Sea region. The Cook Inlet region is closed this year due to low scallop abundance.
It’s pricey scallops that each year nudge Dutch Harbor out of the top spot for the nation’s most valuable seafood port.
New Bedford, Massachusetts has held the lead for value for 17 years running – due to scallop catches that can reach as high as 50 million pounds of shucked meats.