Nantucket Bay Scallop Information and History


The Nantucket Shellfish Association supports research related to Nantucket's shellfish, water quality, and shellfish propagation.  Inquiries on the funding process can be sent here. All research grant proposals are vetted through an independent committee of experts under the auspices of The Nantucket Land Council.

Recent Results:


A project funded by the Nantucket Shellfish Association in 2015 led to the discovery that the black stringy algae that now regularly covers parts of Nantucket Harbor is a species never seen this far north before.  Dr. Pia Moisander of UMass Dartmouth used DNA analysis to show that this cyanobacteria is called Hydrocoluem sp.  It may be here because of warming ocean temperatures.

Click on the sections below to see details:

Current Research

The Nantucket Shellfish Association committed over $30,000  to support three research projects in 2016.


Investigation of  nutrient sources for Hydrocoleum .  Dr. Pia Moisander of UMass Dartmouth continues to study an invading cyanobacteria that may be hurting eelgrass and bay scallops. Funded in collaboration with the Nantucket Land Council.

Deployment of Water Quality Sondes in Nantucket Harbor.  Kaitlyn Shaw, Water Quality Specialist for the Town of Nantucket, will purchase three of the devices to continuously monitor water quality in the harbor.   Funded in collaboration with the Nantucket Land Council.

Predator Study. Leah Cabral, Shellfish Assistant for the Town of Nantucket, will be assessing the predator population in an area that is slated for oyster reef restoration.

Family scalloping on Nantucket

Past Research

Scallop survivorship, spawning behavior, and habitat.   An ongoing eight-year study headed by Dr. Peter Boyce.  Aim is to better understand the eelgrass habitat, density of predators, invasive algae, and man-made pollutants affecting Nantucket's wild shellfish population.  Co-sponsored with the Maria Mitchell Association.  Recent results show drastic declines in eelgrass.  Read a brief summary report by Peter Boyce here.


Importance of the fall spawn in maintaining a sustainable wild population of Nantucket bay scallops.  A six-year study by Dr. Valerie Hall.  Scallops that spawn in the late fall play a vital role in sustaining a viable wild bay scallop population in Nantucket’s waters.  This dissertation study elucidates our understanding of factors that may induce or inhibit the fall spawn. Co-sponsored with the Maria Mitchell Association.


Genetic determinants of scallop lifespan.  The Nantucket bay scallop has a remarkably brief lifespan—typically just two years (vs. 7-10 years for close relatives).  This study by Dr. Stephen Estabrooks identified the genetic cause of the Nantucket bay scallop’s short lifespan and, incidentally, sheds new light on human genetics.  Co-sponsored with the Town of Nantucket.


Assessment of population enhancement efforts.  Nantucket Town Shellfish Biologist Tara Riley is characterizing the local effort to maintain and build Nantucket’s bay scallop population by releasing native Nantucket bay scallop larvae back into Nantucket waters, especially in areas where the population has dwindled. Co-sponsored with the Town of Nantucket and the Nantucket Land Council.


Timing and size of the yearly spawning of Nantucket Scallops.  An ongoing study (since 2005) of the timing and magnitude of the annual scallop spawn.  This study has revealed the heretofore-unrecognized effect of tidal currents in removing scallop larvae from Nantucket Harbor. The Nantucket Shellfish Association funds the summer research assistant for this study, which the Nantucket Land Council and the Great Harbor Yacht Club jointly support.


Monitoring water temperature in eelgrass beds. Differences in water temperature appear to trigger the scallop spawn.  This study (the byproduct of several ongoing research projects) monitors hourly water temperature throughout the year, to elucidate how this natural triggering phenomenon varies from year to year.



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