Ocean’s Fleet Fisheries, New Bedford, MA

The scallops business is big business in New England making up approximately 77% of the 645 million pounds and $1.2 billion commercial seafood market in New England for 2013.  New Bedford, where Ocean’s Fleet headquarters are located, makes up for 140 million pounds, and $329 million, the largest valued catch of any port in the USA (2013).  

DSC_0833Oceans Fleet has 22 boats in their fleet and hold more fishing permits than any other scallop business on the east coast.  The scallops are caught in a variety of areas around the Georges Banks.  Places that Captains call The Channel on the Southwest corner of Georges Banks, that are known for their rocky bottoms and more pinkish colored scallops, or the southeast part of Georges Banks called Area II, that is known for its soft bottom and big lazy scallops, often softer and more white in color.   DSC_0820

Each location is permitted with specific coordinates and catch amounts that fisherman must abide by.  There is a council that is made of members who are scallop fisheries experts within the large area of Atlantic scallop fisheries, from Maine to N. Carolina.  This council, known as New England Fisheries Management Council makes the planning decisions for the scallop fishery including which areas are open, closed, harvest amounts, and days at sea allotment for each fishing vessel or fishery.

DSC_0852NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the governing agency for all things fish.  They make the rules and have the final word on fisheries management, but it is a team effort in gathering the intelligence needed to manage the scallop fishery.  NOAA opens and closes specific rotational areas based upon the age of scallops within a region.  A mature scallop is 4-5 years old, and the 4” rings within the bottom trawler system are designed to gather only the mature scallops.


Captain’s shucking room

It’s very rare for a scallop fisherman to come up with a bag of anything besides scallops and bottom debit.  Scallop trawlers bags are made up of the iron dredger, metal rings, and twine top. When it comes aboard 10-20% of the total weight brought on board is usable, the rest are rocks / debrit and occasional immature scallops that are put back overboard.  Most of the mature scallops are smaller 20-30ct, or 10-20ct, and there will only be a few bags of U-10 – which is why these scallops are at a premium price. Everyone onboard, including the captain, shucks scallops between sets.  The abductor mussels is separated from the shell and the remaining shell gets discarded out a shoot and back into the sea. 

DSC_0825The scallops are placed into 50# units of cheese cloth bags, put on ice inside the hold.  When the hold is full of scallops, the vessel has used its days at sea, or a storm is coming the scallops are brought to port where they are hoisted out of the hull and into a portside station. 

The scallops are then weighed by bag, checked for size per pound (count), and immediately put back on ice, marked with a boat name and date, and brought to the packing line.  DSC_0830

The scallops bags are opened and poured into a bath a 2% saltwater that will rinse any grit away from the scallop.  It comes up a conveyor belt and handpicked thru and assembly line to ensure proper size and quality.  A sample is taken from each batch and tested for moisture, to be called a “DRY” scallop the FDA requires that the scallop be less than 82% moisture content.  A sample is kept on hand and moisture content logged for regulations. The scallops continue their journey from the picking line to then be weighted in 8# units and placed into a can to be shipped immediately. DSC_0864

If you notice moisture in the bottom of your scallop can, that liquid has come out of the scallops and is completely natural calcium.  The scallop that we love so much is the abductor mussel of the scallop, there is more to a scallop than only the white meat that we see.  Did you know that scallops have eyes?   Scallops are filter feeders of plankton but won’t turn down a big meal if it’s available.  Ocean’s Fleet crews have see numerous scallop with baby haddock or other small fish in their mouths. 

Thank you to the Ocean’s Fleet crews for giving us the inside look at their facility and operations, and providing full transparency from boat to can.  Please visit the Ocean’s Fleet Fisheries website an learn more about all the brand names, fishing boat names, as well as the history of Ocean’s Fleet.  http://www.oceansfleet.com/

Chad Pettrone
Sustainability Director
Northeast Seafood