Nantucket’s 2023-24 commercial scalloping season began Wednesday under cloudy skies, along with some wind and rain, as the hunt for the island’s prized shellfish was renewed.
About 15 scallop boats were out in Nantucket Harbor, along with another five in Madaket Harbor.Island fish markets set the wholesale price paid to scallopers at $15 to $18 per pound, down from the start of last season, and the retail prices ranged from $20 to $25 per pound.
But all of that - the number of boats out fishing, the prices, and the demand - will be fleshed out and subject to change as the first week of fishing rolls along, said Samantha Denette, executive director of the Nantucket Shellfish Association.
“It’s always cautious optimism and trying to be optimistic,” Denette said. “We’re not looking at a banner year but we’re not looking at a dud either. I feel good about us being in the middle. But we can’t make the call on day one if it’s going to be either/or.”
Denette said she hopes the price paid to Nantucket's scallopers will increase as the season progresses.
"Fifteen to $18 per pound is not unheard of to start the season, but we believe this is such a special and unique product, it warrants a higher pay," Denette said. "But on day one, it's not an unreasonable place to start until we know demands of the market."
Island scalloper Carl Bois took the Current along for the ride on opening day as he set out from Polpis Harbor. His favorite spots - undisclosed, of course - yielded decent returns, and Bois secured his five-bushel limit before 10 a.m. in Nantucket Harbor. Watch a video from our trip with Capt. Carl by clicking here.
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.
"It was a good start to the season, and we saw the usual suspects out there," Denette added. "What's interesting to note is that it's going to be a more dynamic fishery moving forward when we consider the amount of seed in the harbor. We have to hope they continue to grow for next year."