BATH, Maine — Most commercial fisheries in Maine are different from the lobster industry in one crucial aspect: annual catch totals have not consistently gone up over the past 20 years.

Landings for species such as shrimp, scallops, herring, urchins and many types of groundfish peaked in Maine in the 1980s and 1990s, which has led to economic challenges for fishermen as their costs increase and their catches decline. Even in Maine’s lobster fishery, which according to preliminary estimates may have hit a record high in 2011 of more than 100 million pounds, lower prices and rising expenses have put a crimp in the industry’s bottom line.

There is one new scallop dealer based in the midcoast area, however, who thinks she may be able to offset declining catches in that fishery with a new product. Togue Brawn, a former Maine Department of Marine Resources staffer, is the first dealer in Maine to get a special license to buy and sell scallops still attached to the shell. In December, she began buying scallops in the half-shell from half a dozen of Maine fishermen and then selling them to restaurants as a value-added product.

“It’s sort of a novelty,” Brawn said last week. “My goal is to get the fishermen more money.”

No fishery in Maine has faced tougher times in recent years than the scallop industry. Low population estimates led the state to nearly cancel the second half of the 2009 scallop season, and since then DMR has prohibited scallop harvesting in several areas along the coast in an effort to get stocks to rebound. Even in areas where harvesting has been allowed, scallop fishermen this winter have been coping with low landings, especially in Cobscook Bay, which has long been considered one of the best scalloping areas in the state.

In 2010, fishermen working along Maine’s coast caught and sold more than 185,000 pounds of scallops for approximately $1.5 million, or about $8 a pound. That total value is about 10 percent of the fishery’s peak value in 1981, when Maine fishermen caught and sold more than 3.8 million pounds of scallops at $4 a pound for a fishery total of $15.2 million.

For Brawn, the volume she is aiming for will come nowhere close to making up for the decline in landings over the past 30 years. The potential demand for scallops in the half-shell, in which the edible adductor muscle is left attached to the shell while it is cooked and served, is a niche market at best, she said.

“It’s small,” Brawn said of her current volume. “It’s less than 100 [scallops] a day. I’d like to move several thousand in a week.”

Operating as Maine Dayboat Scallops, Brawn also sells regular, de-shelled scallops to help pay her bills. She said she sells only scallops caught by in-shore Maine fishermen, who bring their day’s catch back to shore every day, because she believes they are better than scallops that are caught further offshore, which might not make it onto a diner’s plate until more than a week after they are caught.

The reason a special license is required for scallop dealers who might want to sell scallops in the shell is because of concerns about paralytic shellfish poisoning, also known as PSP. Parts other than the shell and meat, or adductor muscle, are known to retain naturally occurring toxins that can lead to PSP.

Unless fishermen are specifically authorized to do so by DMR, as the fishermen Brawn buys from are, they have to shuck the legal-sized scallops they keep at sea, meaning they cut out the adductor muscle and throw everything else — roe, shell and innards — back into the water. Any scallop with a shell less than four inches in diameter, which is the minimum size allowed by the state, has to be returned to the water intact.

Trish DeGraaf, scallops resource coordinator for DMR, said Friday that other parts of scallops, such as the roe, often are edible and eaten in other countries. If the state allowed these other parts to be harvested, she said, it would have to implement a monitoring system to check them for PSP toxins before they were distributed to consumers — which could be a difficult thing to justify for a struggling industry in a weak economy.

Making harvesting exceptions for the toxin-free scallop shells, she suggested, could have a ripple economic effect. There is some evidence that shells discarded in the ocean help provide habitat on which young scallops can settle, she said, but there also are other on-land uses for shells, such as in arts and crafts or reuse by restaurants as plate garnishes. Finding ways to reduce waste from the scallop fishing will help boost the fishery’s value, she said.

“That’s an important thing to consider for all our fisheries — getting the biggest bang for the pounds that are landed,” DeGraaf said.

Brawn said that is the reason she applied for the special license, as any Maine scallop dealer can. Restaurant chefs and their diners, she said, will pay a higher price for scallops in the shell because the shell, though inedible, can play a prominent role in how the dish is presented.

To demonstrate her point, Brawn has come up with a recipe for a seafood pot pie in which the shell, complete with attached scallop meat, functions as the bottom of the pastry dish that keeps the rest of the filling in place.

“It does make for an impressive presentation [on a dinner plate],” Brawn said. “It’s the perfect size — four to five inches.”

And though her volume is still small, Brawn has been able to pay fishermen a higher price for scallops in the shell.

She declined to go into extensive detail about her finances, but said she charges restaurants between two dollars and three dollars per scallop for scallops in the shell. Considering that one pound of scallops typically contains between approximately 20 and 30 scallop meats, and that fishermen were paid on average $8 per pound in 2010, Brawn’s product fetches a substantially higher price. DMR has yet to release scallop landings statistics from 2011.

Preston Alley, a Beals Island fisherman who sells scallops in the half-shell to Brawn, said Sunday that he sold 72 scallops in the shell to Brawn last week. It’s not a lot but the per-pound price for the product, including the shell, is several dollars higher than the $8 per pound scallop fishermen averaged in 2010, he said. If demand for the product grows, its economic impact would be more substantial, he added.

“Scalloping isn’t great right now,” Alley said. “It helps out a little.”

Dana Temple, a scallop dealer from Cape Elizabeth who chairs DMR’s Scallop Advisory Council, said Friday that there isn’t enough demand for scallops in the shell to absorb the millions of scallops caught in Maine’s coastal waters each winter.

Temple said he personally is not considering dealing in scallops in the shell because he sells large wholesale volumes of frozen scallops to large retailers, not restaurants. But for smaller dealers who can establish a clientele of restaurants interested in scallops in the shell, and for the fishermen that dealer would buy from, the specialty product can help boost the value of the scallops they bring ashore, he said.

“It’s not an easy situation right now,” Temple said of Maine’s scallop fishery. “[Fishermen] should be trying to get every dime they can out of every pound they catch.”

Temple said there are other dealers in the United States who sell imported scallops in the half-shell, some of which come from as far away as South America. But for freshness of taste, which he said usually lasts only a few days after the scallop is harvested, scallops caught in Maine coastal waters are among the best.

Expanding into niche products and promoting Maine scallops as a premium seafood will only help the state’s coastal fishermen, he said.

“You can’t beat what the fishery provides,” Temple said. “Someday, people will thank Togue for what she is doing.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....

37 replies on “Selling scallops in the shell could boost fishermen’s income”

  1. Considering this years price has been above $10.00/lb all season; the $1.00 per scallop Touge is paying fisherman I don’t think it will really have much of an impact on anyone’s bottom line; except for her new business.Especially dealing less then 100 per day.
    I wonder if she wasn’t a former DMR cronie she would be getting all this free press about the good she’s doing. She may really care about all five fisherman in her company and the others, but I think she may be motivated by the money going into her bank roll.
    Give some of the other buyers some free press, I am sure if you give them a front page spread they will feed you some of the same gargle in this interview!

    1. Sounds like you’re bitter about having difficulty finding a market for your small meat. Don’t hate the woman over your deficiencies!

      1. Not sure the deduction on the meat count. Perhaps I did come off bitter , if so it due to the fact she is being portrayed as some heroine. She is now a seafood dealer and as they say in politics subject to the same disdain all seafood dealers are subjected to by fisherman. :)

    2. Im just trying to debate here. U-20 Scallops, 20 to the pound right? That means at 10 per pound each scallop is worth 50 cents right? So that means if she is paying 1 dollar  per scallop in the shell the scalloper is making 100% more per scallop over the each shucked one.

      1. You are right on with the math. All 70-100 she is willing to buy a day will add $35 to $50 on days there are orders , for the five fisherman able to sell on this market. Do you follow my gripe now? 

        1. I think what you are saying is this-

          Based on volume the scalloper will make more money selling shucked scallops as the market for those is larger.
          Even though the in shell scallops are worth more than a shucked scallop there is not enough volume(not enough being bought) to make it profitable over selling shucked scallops.
          If that is the point you are making then I agree with you. I think that if those scallops could be marketed outside of Maine the volume could increase by a fair amount.

        2. How is it any “gripe” of yours whether another fisherman sells his scallops shucked or on the half shell to her?
          You sound like just another horses “a” double “s”, raving about something that isn’t your business and has no effect on you.

  2. Does PSP not occur in other countries?  I’ve eaten scallop roe in Europe and Asia–in many places, the roe is considered the “good part” of the scallop.  I’d pay a premium price for it; why would it be so difficult to sell?

    1. Remember that in order for any seafood product to get to Hannaford’s or any retailer, the product is sold to a dealer/wholesaler, trucked, sorted, and then meets the final point of sale. Every hand that touches the product takes an additional 50-75 cents, and the retailers have their own overhead. It costs 10 cents to make a medium sized coke, but you’re still buying it for $1 at the store or $2 in a restaurant. This is the way that markup works in the marketplace – regardless of the commodity.

  3. Lets see one fisherman is going to benefit i wont be selling scallops in shells what a crock of sh** think of all of the food for other creatures you wont be throwing back to the ocean floor lets really kill a dying industry and she said she pays 3 times the price ha i was board the other day dragging and a 1 gallon bucket rounded i put 167 scallops in it so say 10 pounds times 11 bucks a pound thats 111 per gallon and would only be 167 in the shell how is that 3 times the price if your gonna lie you got to do better than that

    1. At $111 per gallon, you should be able to afford some punctuation for that rambling mess!
      She’s developing a new market and some scallopers are on board. Do you always think so “small”?
      Never mind. That’s a rhetorical question.

  4. The scallop/fishing industry is suffering because for so many years everyone overfished and now, due to greed, the stocks are depleted. You can’t just keep taking and taking and taking without ever putting anything back in….common sense. Isn’t this why there’s no more Great North Woods ? When will people learn to be sustainable…??

    1. When will people learn to be sustainable…??
      When you provide them a stable, sustainable currency.  The fiat garbage we have now is derived from debt, is unsustainable and therefore, produces unsustainable economic policies and decisions within the marketplace.  Folks yapping on and on about sustainability really need to take a look at austrian economics and get a clue about sustainable economics.  Without sustainable economics, you will not have a sustainable ecologic environment.

  5. Whatever happened to the requirement that the scallop shell had to remain at the bed to promote procreation ?

  6. Ok first of all the picture is very misleading.  That is a CLEANED scallop. The reason people do not bring in whole scallops is common sense. You only use the small mussel the rest is dumped overboard as it would be pointless to bring back thousands of pounds of  shells and leftover parts instead of a few 5 gallon buckets.

  7. Being a ‘localvore’ is all the rage, and the tourists will love the presentation on their plate.
    Ultimately the same product, but if she can sell it this way, and everybody involved makes the same or more money, why not support herself this way. Heck, she may even eventually hire a couple employees. It’s these creative people that are the basis for small businesses.   
    You Go Girl!

  8. This just costs the consumer more money, for the special handling of these scallops on the half shell.  Then demand goes down, and that $11.00 order of fried clams looks much better.

  9. So the fisherman averaged 8$ per pound..Seems to me that Ive seen scallops up to 18$!!!!!! a pound..I think that we all know where the issue is,and it isnt the consumer OR the fisherman.Id Buy all of the scallops a fisherman had at 8 or 10 bucks a pound!Why isnt there a coop that can help consumeres AND fishermen get a fair price? Instead of selling a shell for a buck?

  10. I read the article and I still don’t get it.  Help me out here.  The shell attached is worth more for what reason?  I might be persuaded if there was a scallop appetizer version of a ‘Clams Casino’, an Oyster Rockefeller, or a baked-stuffed scallop/seafood concoction of some variety.  Otherwise, I personally would not pay more.  Just added weight to carry home.

    My mother used to make ‘Crab Imperial’ when I was a kid and served it in a scallop shell.  I never liked her not-so-Imperial Crab. Too bland. That it came in a shell was probably the most interesting thing about it.

    Otherwise, if scallop shells are ‘money’ I’d check out the diet supplement market, cosmetic industry, gardening, or artistic communities. The shells are just  too big for dinner plates – in multitude.

  11. Togue is doing a good thing by creating additional market and
    stimulating demand for a new product. We would all be so lucky if there
    were more innovative, hard working people in Maine like her who took a
    little risk for the benefit of a Maine-based industry.

  12. The eyes (front lip) are a delicacy when served tempura style, especially when a scallop sashimi  shares the plate.  I have been trying to buy whole (unopened) scallops for years with no luck.  To me the scallop on a shell has no added value unless the lip and the roe are with it; it is just a regular scallop with a shell thrown in as it is being offered here.

  13. Gullible tourists will pay out the nose to eat off of those fancy ‘plates’.  Why not stick it to ’em?

  14. As a chef, I see a huge market for these scallops out of state. A very large amount of upscale restaurants in places like NYC would be very interested in using this product.

  15. value added product = you pay more for the same product

    …. nothing but liberal speak for an incredibly dumb idea that originated across the pond

  16. what ever happened to that idea that scallops must be shucked where they come from so the shells provide something necessary for procreation ? 

  17. What ever happened to the notion that scallops must be shucked at the site of catching as the shells play some part in their procreation ?

  18. A note to Mainly Tom: I have been a fisherman for over 40 years and I am aware of greed. I have for many years to no avail  proposed to DMR to zone this industry.  Ms. Brawn and I have but heads many times on this subject.  Seeing some of us do not care about sustainability we have a depleting market.
    My problem with Ms. Brawn is the fact the she has a SPECIAL PERMIT to sell these scallops on a half shell. I also operate a restaurant during the summer months and unfortunately I do not have one of those SPECIAL PERMITS. I will be calling down to Augusta to see about getting one. But by the sounds of this news article these permits are for SPECIAL PEOPLE.

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