Inescapable winter weather settles in just as SCUBA divers adventure up to sixty feet below the ocean’s surface, with water temperatures close to freezing and air temperatures close to zero. On December 1, they began their search for sea scallops on the coastal ocean floor of Maine, with the season open only until April.
Over 99% of the entire Atlantic Sea Scallop harvest is collected by offshore dredging, making those scallops caught by divers less that one percent of the annual catch. Due to the geography of Maine’s coastline, many scallop-rich areas are too rocky for dredging, but the water is shallow enough for divers to go down and harvest the product by hand. Of those gathered and sold, most go to residents of the state of Maine, with only a small percentage reserved for out-of-state sale. Buyer beware of many who offer “Maine diver scallops” year round – many are mislabeled, especially if they are whole and live, since only the adductor muscle, or scallop “meat,” is legal to sell in Maine.
Divers only look for large, mature scallops, often by eyeing pale rings of sand that mark the outward motion of the mollusk's two shells. A strategic technique, this leaves both ocean floor environment and still-developing scallop populations unharmed. Because of zero stress, jostling, or friction involved in harvesting, scallops collected by these professional divers are known to have an even more velvety texture than normal, of course also maintaining their rich, sweet quality.