By Togue Brawn, Downeast Dayboat
Quick question: when you think of Maine, what seafood comes to mind?
I bet I know your answer.
If Maine fisheries were an action movie, Lobster would be Jason Momoa, Tom Hardy, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise and Matt Damon all rolled into one mega-beast black hole, sucking up screen time from everyone else.
Oops – did my biases show through?
OK, I’ll admit it: lobster’s dominance in Maine fisheries kind of annoys me. Don’t get me wrong: I love lobster. My father (whom I idolized) was a lobsterman. I still wear his trap tag on my wrist and have fond memories of helping him gather errant traps after a storm and helping on the boat when his sternman didn’t show. I love the communal eating process of gorging on lobster with Ruffle’s potato chips and Diet Coke, dropping the shells in five gallon buckets and getting butter and tomalley all over the counter. As a fisheries consultant much of my work comes from the lobster industry so I’m certainly not trash talking the hand that feeds me. But the blinding spotlight focused on Maine’s “iconic” seafood obscures some pretty awesome stuff.
Maine waters produce some of the most amazing seafood in the world, and with good reason. The phrase “you are what you eat” applies to seafood too, especially filter feeders. These stationary beauties are at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to food: they have to eat what she brings by them. While some shellfish make do with shallow, stagnant waters (ick), Maine bivalves lives the good life: our waters are cold, pure and teeming with tasty critters. The rivers that empty into the Gulf of Maine flow through pristine land (Maine is 89% forested – the highest percentage of any US State). And with some of the highest tides in the world, our cold clean waters are constantly churning, ensuring our shellfish have a never-ending conveyor belt of nutrients, oxygen and anything else they could want right at their villi-fingertips.
All Maine shellfish are amazing. But there’s one in particular that you should know about. You’ve probably eaten a scallop, right? Well, I bet you don’t know what they’re actually supposed to taste like. I say that because Maine waters produce the best-tasting scallops in the world, and our fishing practices ensure they come to shore completely pure. Read on, seafood lovers!
Maine fishermen produce just 2% of US sea scallops, and we do it very differently from other fishermen:
Most US sea scallops (roughly 95%) are caught by large “trip boats”. They’re designed to harvest large amounts of scallops on offshore trips that can last a week or more. As scallops are caught they’re stored in cloth bags buried in ice. That ice melts over the course of the trip and is absorbed by the scallops. Scallops are sold by the pound and extra water = extra weight = extra money. Since trip boats can bring in tens of thousands of pounds of scallops at a time, even a small increase in moisture content can mean huge additional profits. And the same incentive exists for dealers, who often store scallops in ice and sometimes soak them in tripolyphosphate or other solutions to further increase water weight. So when you’re buying generic “scallops”, you’re paying MORE money for LESS scallop (and who knows what chemicals might be lurking in them).
Maine’s scallop fishery is completely different; our guys have to stay within 3 miles of shore and are limited to 135 pounds per trip so their trips last hours, not days. Also, because we only fish in winter and early spring Mother Nature is our refrigerator so our scallops NEVER touch ice or other fresh water.
It’s long been accepted that provenance is important with oysters. But we haven’t made the logical next step, which is to realize that provenance is equally important with other filter feeders.
All Maine waters produce tasty shellfish, but here’s an interesting fact: Since each Maine Bay has different qualities (salinity, depth, currents, runoff from adjacent lands), they all produce different flavors. A Cobscook Bay scallop tastes different from a Casco Bay scallop, which is different from a Gouldsboro Bay scallop and on and on. That’s due to the differences between the water bodies, but it’s also due to differences between the scallops themselves, which have evolved within those water bodies (Want to get your scallop genetics geek on? Check this out)
So what does this all mean? It means YOU SHOULD BE EATING MAINE SCALLOPS!
Buy scallops now at Downeast Dayboat
Videos about Maine Scallops from Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association