Nantucket's fishermen will take to the waters tomorrow for the first day of the commercial scalloping season with cautious optimism for this year's harvest.
Nantucket shellfish biologist Tara Riley and her team at the town's Natural Resources Department have been encouraged by what they have seen at the 39 areas they monitor around the island's harbors in recent weeks. The scallop seed is thick in Madaket, Riley said, and they have also noticed a decrease in the amount of lyngbya, the algae that is believed to have contributed to the decline of the eel grass population in the harbors. Recreational scallopers have done well over the past month, and the hope is that Nantucket's commercial fleet will find similar success in deeper waters when the season opens Tuesday morning.
The 2021-2022 commercial scalloping season ended in March with the island’s fleet landing only 3,200 bushels over the five-month season, one of the lowest totals on record. That compares to 7,600 bushels taken during the 2020-21 season, and is well off the total of 13,000 bushels that were landed as recently as 2017-18.
Last season was characterized by dismal conditions - with diminished eel grass and few scallops to be had - but also high prices paid to fishermen and by consumers at island fish markets and beyond. By the end of the season in March, there were only about six or eight boats continuing to fish in Nantucket Harbor and in Madaket.
A month after the season closed, Nantucket fishermen and marine officials took to the waters of Madaket Harbor on a hopeful mission to improve the prospects for this year's harvest. Following the discovery of a large bed of seed (juvenile) scallops in late 2021, members of the island’s scalloping fleet, along with the town’s Natural Resources Department and the private Nantucket Shellfish Association, set out to move some of the seed to new locations in Madaket Harbor and off Tuckernuck. The hope, said Riley, is to improve the prospects of survival for the seed scallops by moving them to better habitat and reducing their density in one area.
At the start of the last commercial season, fishermen were getting paid $22 per pound for their catch, while island fish markets set the retail price around $35 per pound, both up significantly from 2020. Those prices stayed consistently high for the season.