Nantucket is an island 30 miles east of Cape Cod and is home to the sweetest scallops in the world. The season starts November 1st and ends when the catch gets to a level that the fishery management deems too low. The fishing can also stop when the air temperature gets below 32 degrees. At this temperature the juvenile scallops will freeze and die when they are brought up in the net and exposed to the air. The scallops have a short lifespan of just over two years, so if you kill off the juvenile scallops there will be no scallops for next year.
The scallops live and feed in the tall eel grass that surrounds the island. The eel grass and scallops are fed by cold nutrient rich waters of the cape and the result is a scallop with a distinctively sweet flavor and velvety texture. This delicate flavor is best served a bit raw in the center. They are even delicious completely raw right out of the shell. When cooking set them in a hot pan with a little oil or clarified butter and the sugars inside the scallop will quickly caramelize to a golden brown. Just quickly flip to the other side and serve.
The wild Nantucket Cape Scallop is fished by towing 8 small dredges behind a 16-22 Foot outboard motor boat. The fishermen tow for 5 to 10 minutes and then stop down wind and haul one dredge back at a time. They then dump the dredge bag out and cull through the seaweed, saving only the adult scallops. Each licensed fisherman is allowed to catch 5 bushels of shell stock per day. There are usually two licensed fishermen on each boat catching a total of 10 bushels per day which will result in about 80 pounds of shucked meats. Once back at the dock the shell stock is inspected by the town shellfish wardens to assure only the adults have been harvested. Once cleared, they head to various shanties where the shells stock is shucked. Scallop fishing in Nantucket is highly regulated and the fishery can open and close due to fluctuations in air temperature. The season can last a couple weeks or into the month of March depending on Mother Nature.