Nantucket Bay Scallop Information and History

Humble Beginnings


Bay scallops were not always considered a delicacy.  In fact, in the early 1800s, they were used as bait for cod-fishing.  It wasn’t until later in the 19th century that they became popular, and islanders quickly realized Nantucket was surrounded by a valuable commodity, literally waiting each season to be scooped off the bottom, shipped to the mainland and sold at a premium.


The bay scallop has been an icon across history.  View a slide show that highlights its use in art, industry, jewelry.

Learn about:

Historian and author Nat Philbrick speaks about the heritage of the Nantucket Bay Scallop Fishery:

Family Scalloping

Family scalloping on Nantucket is a unique tradition that allows anyone to purchase a permit and get out on the water to collect delicious Nantucket Bay Scallops.  It connects islanders and visitors alike to Nantucket's bountiful natural resources and beautiful harbors.  Learn more by visiting the Family Scalloping page.

Family scalloping on Nantucket

Commercial Scalloping

Source:  Excerpt from Joshua Balling, writer for The Inquirer & Mirror


Many of the Island’s long-time commercial scallopers follow a family tradition passed down from generation to generation.  Scallopers’ lives are by no means easy.  They rise before dawn to be on the water by 6:30 a.m. between November and March (unless the temperature drops below 28 degrees or the wind is howling).  They set out in small, open-decked boats, frequently alone, or with just a partner to help them haul their dredges.  Locating scallops requires an intimate knowledge of the complex, ever-changing contours of the harbor floor, though most have never seen it.  There’s also the risk of snagging another scalloper’s dredge, a costly and time-consuming setback.


Commercial scallopers haul their catch from the bottom with dredges dragged behind their boats.   “It’s very complex.  There is so much to it with the natural changes in each season.  November fishing is very different from March fishing,” said Marina Finch, who got her start with long-time scalloper Neil Cocker.


In a banner year they are often back at the dock and enjoying a cup of coffee by 9 a.m., secure in the knowledge that they’ve just brought in several hundred dollars worth of succulent shellfish.


Once the scallop boat is back at the dock, the scallops, still in their shells, are brought ashore and taken to a shucking shanty, where they wait to be opened.  With three quick flicks of a knife blade, veteran shuckers open the shells and separate the meat.  It’s a repetitive job, but the best shuckers can go through thousands of shellfish a day.  And the industry couldn’t survive without them.


Visit the Commercial Scalloping Fishery page for more pictures and information.

© Nantucket Shellfish Association