Sea Scallop by Bottom Trawl (USA)

U.S. Northeast Atlantic — Sea Scallop


Sea Scallop


Mar 01 - Feb 28

Bottom Trawl

Fish harvesters drag a large cone-shaped net along the seafloor to catch sea scallops. The net is sunk and held open by two “otter boards” that look like large, heavy steel or wooden doors. As the net is towed at low speed, hydrodynamic forces push the boards outwards opening the mouth of the net and dredging up scallops its path. The net is then hauled to the surface using hydraulic winches and a drum. A single tow can net scallops along with incidental catch.

Harvesting Method

Bottom Trawl

Also known as “dragging,” bottom trawling uses a large net made of polyethylene to catch fish. Steel or wooden doors spread the net open. Floats are attached to the upper mouth of the net to keep it open vertically and weighted “bobbins” are attached to the lower mouth to sink the net. The bobbins’ design depends on the terrain, varying from small rubber discs for smooth sandy seafloors to large metal balls for rough ground. Known as “rock hoppers,” bobbins lift the net over obstacles on the seafloor.

Bottom Trawl

In the U.S. Northeast Atlantic, many different species are caught in bottom trawls. These include sea scallops, Atlantic cod, haddock, pollock, yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, winter flounder, windowpane flounder, American plaice, Atlantic halibut, redfish, ocean pout and white hake. Most trawlers are federally permitted to catch multiple groundfish species. Some trawlers also have state permits to catch allocations in state waters.

Conservation Measures

Bottom trawls disturb habitat when dragged along the seabed, and impacts vary by sediment type and the trawl gear used. Undersized and unwanted species (bycatch) are also unintentionally caught.

The New England Fisheries Management Council manages the fishery using a combination of effort controls such as gear and days-at-sea restrictions and output controls such as annual catch limits. A number of measures address conservation in this fishery, including:

  • annual catch limits;
  • limitation on the number and size of licensed fishing vessels in the fishery;
  • limitation on the number of days at sea for fishing scallops;
  • limitation on the amount of scallops caught per trip;
  • limitation on the number of fishing days at sea for each licensed vessel;
  • restrictions on mesh sizes for nets to prevent the capture of undersized scallops;
  • restrictions on the width or sweep of the trawl net
  • requirements to register with authorities which species and area to be fished before leaving the dock
  • requirement to maintain on board the vessel and submit vessel trip reports for all fishing trips
  • area closures for conservation purposes
  • a “Rotational Area Management” program restricts where and when scallop vessels can fish
  • limits on crew size aboard the vessel
  • option for groups of fish harvesters to form a group or “sector” in order to participate in an “allocation catch entitlement” which is similar to a catch share for an individual vessel

In this lobster fishing area, fish harvesters actively participate in scientific data collection and research such as:

  • a comprehensive data collection system on catches
  • scientific sampling of lobsters at sea
  • maintaining catch logbooks and scientific field notebooks

U.S. Northeast Atlantic


FishWatch - Click for status

Seafood Watch - Good Alternative


Mar 01 - Feb 28


The New England Fishery Management Council manages the fishery under the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan.


For stock status, visit the Northeast Regional Office of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

Quality and Handling

Scallops are all hand shucked as they are caught and the abductor muscle (scallop meat) is rinsed in salt water and transferred to a clean burlap sack that allows the meat to breath. They are then placed on ice to await being sold to the buyer at the end of the fishing trip.  


Food Info Sea Scallop


  • Colour: opaque white to pale beige to creamy pink
  • Texture: very fleshy meat which is lean and firm in texture
  • Flavour: A sweet, mild taste
  • Perfect serve: Scallops are particularly popular as an appetizer, often wrapped in bacon and quickly grilled. To make the most of the distinctive sweet flavour of scallops, pan sear them quickly till just brown and slightly crusty on the outside and still tender in the middle. Serve with a light, not overpoweringly flavoured, sauce: lemon-butter or white wine and herb come to mind. Be careful not to overcook them as they toughen up easily.