Sea Scallop Fishing Off the Jersey Coast Thriving

By Lauren Wanko

At Viking Village in Barnegat Light, commercial fishermen pack out 14,000 pounds of sea scallops from their latest trip.

“The boat fishes 24 hours a day. Once we get out there and start fishing, the boat doesn’t stop until I decide it’s time to come home,” said Lindsay L Captain Jeremy Hudson.

NOAA Fisheries indicates commercial fishermen landed 7,148,375 pounds of sea scallops in New Jersey in 2014 valuing more than $87 million. That’s up more than $20 million from 2013.

“Through cooperative research and cooperative planning with the National Marine Fisheries and industry people, sea scallops have gotten managed very well. They were over capitalized in the ’80s and early ’90s, and then the management plan took over and reduced the capacity of the boats. These fishermen are the conservationists. They’re willing to take the steps and they have over the years to take the steps to conserve the resource for the future generations,” said Viking Village General Manager Ernie Panacek.

“We’re only allowed so many days to fish per year, and so many amount of pounds. They’ve probably almost tripled the amount of scallops that are out in the ocean over the last 15 years that I’ve seen,” Hudson said.

The Lindsay L is typically out eight to 10 days at a time. Captain Hudson and his crew usually fish 25 to 45 miles south of Long Island. There are two 13 foot scallop drags on the boat, one on each side.

“We lift the drag over, put it in the water. Then we start moving, start steaming along, then we set them out nice and gingerly and put them on the bottom. And most of the times we tow for about an hour and we haul them back every hour on the hour,” Hudson said.

As the drags are brought back on the boat, crew members work quickly to take the scallops out of the net. They’re shucked right away, cut and then rinsed off in baskets. They’re soaked in a salt ice water brine that drops their temperature drastically. Then they’re bagged, packed on ice and placed in the fish hole.

The drags consist of four-inch rings that allows small scallops to escape says the captain.

“If you didn’t make sure the little ones got back in the water, 10 years down the road there wouldn’t be anything for the next generation to come through and catch,” Hudson said.

On the dock, the scallops are graded. Fishermen look at quality and size and divide these scallops into three different sizes. They’re loaded into boxes, packed on ice and shipped out throughout the country in the early evening.

“The boat was the boat Lindsay L used in the making of the movie, The Perfect Storm. It was the boat used and retro-fitted to play the Hannah Boden,” Hudson said. Does he feel like he’s in the movie when on the boat? “No, not really,” he said, adding it’s just a job.

The captain and his crew will head back out to sea in another week to 10 days so seafood lovers can savor more of these sea scallops.