AK weathervane scallops
Credit: csmphotos.com

Photo credit:  weathervanefactory.com

 One of Alaska’s smallest and priciest fisheries gets underway on July 1 – weathervane scallops.

The fleet size is limited by federal licensing for only 9 permits, but just two boats take part in the fishery which spans from Yakutat to the Bering Sea and can run through the winter. 

“It’s pretty specialized. It’s not something you can get into easily. A fair bit of institutional knowledge and also specialized gear.  Lots of people have some Tanner crab pots lying around their back yards but not many have a 15 foot New Bedford scallop dredge in their back yards.”

Nat Nichols is area shellfish manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Kodiak.

The scallop fishery also is very labor intensive as it includes catching and processing.

“It also takes a lot of manpower, with crews of  12 people that are shucking by hand. Every Alaska scallop you’ve ever seen was shucked by hand.”

This year the two boats will compete for a slightly increased catch of 345,000 pounds of shucked meats, which are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed. Scallops are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen over $10 a pound, depending on size and grade.

Weathervane scallops are the largest in the world and it takes them about five years for to reach a marketable shell size of about five inches. Some can measure 10 inches across!

The boats drop big dredges comprising four inch rings to keep out smaller sizes. They make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is co-managed with the federal government and has 100 percent observer coverage.

Nichols says stock surveys are done every year, mostly at the biggest producing areas of Yakutat and Kodiak

 “We do a dredge survey every year but given that the scallop beds are spread from Yakutat to the Bering Sea we don’t survey every bed every year.”

Total first wholesale revenue for last season was estimated at nearly $2.36 million meaning an average crew share of $41,274.