Nantucket's scalloping fleet will take to the water Wednesday morning with cautious optimism as the 2023-24 commercial scalloping season begins.
After several years of declining harvests, island fishermen brought in 7,197 bushels of bay scallops by the end of last season, more than doubling the total from the previous year. While still a far cry from the harvests decades ago, it was a tentative sign that perhaps the fishery is recovering.
Another sign being closely watched by scallopers and the town's Natural Resources Department is the vast amount of scallop seed (juvenile scallops) that have been observed in Nantucket Harbor over the late summer and fall.
While those scallops will be next year's crop, Tara Riley, the town's shellfish and aquatic resources manager, said the seed population is giving her team hope that their efforts to spawn bay scallops at the Brant Point Hatchery and introduce them into the harbor are truly paying off.
"We found the mother load - over 500 per meter squared - just piles," Riley said. "Kind of like we saw in Madaket last year, but way more."
There are so many, in fact, that Riley and have been moving some amount of the seed scallop population to different areas.
"These are next year's adult scallops, so it makes sense to spread it around," Riley said. "It seems like there's more than enough scallops to take and spread over to Madaket. One hundred percent - it's more than anyone's seen. The 500 per meter squared that we found, to put that in perspective, the highest site we've surveyed since 2006 was 44 per meter squared. So that's the good news. This whole discovery of all the seed around the harbor is a huge gift."
The island's commercial scalloping season runs through March 31, 2024.