When you see the word "Diver" describing scallops on menus in the U.S. these days you can just about bet the house that the scallops you will be dining on are not actually diver caught. Let's just get real about it: the term has been widely misused in such abundance that it has lost its meaning. Diver scallops are scallops that are harvested by a single person who dons scuba gear, dives into the frigid water, and retrieves each scallop, one by one. It is the most ecological sound, the most non-intrusive, and the hardest way to harvest a scallop.
Less than 1% of all domestic scallops harvested are diver caught. In the U.S. there is only one fishery that still harvests scallops commercially by diving on a large enough scale to matter, and that is in the state of Maine. Most other diver scallops are taken by recreational fishermen. Maine gives out about 300 fishing licenses for scallops, and of those only about 1 in 5 are a diver's license. Divers rarely ever catch their limit, which is a little over 135 pounds. So if you do the math, you will see that it's impossible for 60 divers catching a little over 6,000 pounds of scallops to supply every menu in the U.S. that boasts diver scallops.
That doesn't mean that they don't exist. There is still a small fishery in Maine that continues to harvest premium, day boat, true diver scallops. That fishery opens in mid December (read right now) and extends through April, though the season never really lasts that long. Most often the quota is met, weather gets bad, or the divers just stop going out there long before March or April comes along. The peak times to enjoy some of the best scallops available are during the months of December, January, and February. Usually diver scallops are available to the highest bidder a few days out of each week and typically the short supply goes fast.
Why is a diver scallop better? As long as a diver scallop is handled properly, the customer is ensured that the meat is unadulterated and fresher out of the water than any other scallops in the market. A diver scallop is often harvested and shipped on the same day, so consumers can actually be dinning on scallops just hours out of the water. Diver scallops are pristine in quality and set the bar for sweetness and quality.
So why mention diver scallops if they are so hard to find? Well BlackSalt Fish Market is excited to have a small amount of our first of the year diver scallops available this weekend. We plan on carrying the Maine day boat scallops throughout the season, but the diver caught scallops will be sporadic in availability and a little more in price. Either way, great quality scallops are a can't miss at our market throughout the winter and I recommend you take advantage of the best months to eat scallops.