Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/August 1896/The Scallop

THE SCALLOP (Pecten irradians).


WHETHER we follow the old spelling of "escalop," the modern form of "scallop," now used by naturalists, or write it "scollop," after the manner of the fishermen, we find all three modes sanctioned by the dictionaries. Near the seacoast this mollusk is a great favorite, rivaling the clam and the oyster, and by many persons preferred to either. The home demand is so great that the "scollop" is not sent far inland, and it is a matter of surprise how little is popularly known of the animal of which a portion is seen in our seaboard markets during the fall and winter months by those who sell and those who eat them.

For many centuries the beautiful form of the scallop shell has been a favorite with artists, who have used it as an ornament in sculpture, pottery, and in designs of many kinds, and it is found on the armorial bearings of families whose ancestors had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or to Spain:

For the scallop shows in a coat of arms
That, of the bearer's line,
Some one in former days hath been
To Santiago's shrine.

The shell is not found on the Atlantic coast of Europe, but is common on the shores of Judea and other parts of the Mediterranean; hence its possession was evidence of the pilgrimage, and the Crusaders always wore the shell on their hats after returning. Fuller says: "The scallop shell (I mean the nethermost of them, because most concave and most capacious) was often the cup and dish to the pilgrims in Palestine; their arms they always charged therewith." The delicate shell has commended itself to makers of toilet and other articles for ladies' use, such as pincushions, made either in one valve or between both shells; needlebooks and many other things are made from them, but they are too frail for some uses that shells have been put to, such as scrapers, scoops, and dishes, yet from their employment by cooks to serve a peculiar patty of oysters in, they have given the name of "scolloped oysters" to the dish, whether served in the shells or otherwise.

The only portion of this handsome bivalve that is edible is the adductor muscle, which closes the shells and corresponds to the "hard part" in the oyster, often miscalled the "eye"; the rest of the animal, being very soft, is called the rim by the fishermen. The little village of New Suffolk, on Great Peconic Bay, which divides the eastern end of Long Island into two long peninsulas, lives mainly from the scallop fisheries, which begin in September and end about the first of May, and are only interfered with by the freezing of the bay or by floating ice, for the hardy fishermen seldom mind the weather unless a gale should interfere

Going it alone.

with the management of the boats, which are small sloops of five to fifteen tons burden and are managed by two men—one at the tiller and the other at the dredges. They use from one to six dredges, according to the size of the boat. The scallop fleet of New Suffolk comprises twenty-six boats, and some few others of a smaller class occasionally join in the work. About seventy men do the catching and carting, while twenty men, thirty women, and eighty children open and prepare the catch for market; and as the population of the place is only two hundred and seventy-five, it may be truly said that all—grocer, postmaster, and stage driver—live from the catching of scallops. Children stop on the way home from school and open a few quarts, and mothers often rock the cradle with one foot while standing on the other at work in the shops.

Greenport, Sag Harbor, and other places on Long Island do much in this line of work, and tons of scallops come to New York from Rhode Island and other waters east of New York; but the little hamlet of New Suffolk was selected to get information and pictures from, because the place has very little else to live upon, and the very air is impregnated with scallops, as you will find if you get to leeward of the great heaps of shells in rear of the shops,

Light Wind, only Four Dredges out.

and no stretch of imagination could suggest that the odors came from the spice islands or were wafted from "Araby the blest." Fortunately, the shops are situated where the smell does not offend the noses of the people in the town, and is gone by the time that the few summer visitors arrive. There is a good hotel here—the Grant House—kept by a man well known in Brooklyn as a caterer, and a few families come to this quiet spot for the summer, while sportsmen fond of duck-shooting gather there in the fall. The fame of the fried scallops at the Grant House extends farther than the flavor of the shells, I was fortunate in securing the services of Captain George W. King, who has dragged the scallop from its lair for the past twenty years, and most of my information comes from him that is not taken from my investigations for the United States Fish Commission in 1880. Opposite New Suffolk is Robbins Island, where the famous club of that name turns out thousands of quail and other game yearly, for their fall shooting.

The dredge is similar to that used for oysters, consisting of an iron frame about three feet long by half as high, to which the bag is fastened; the latter, holding-a bushel and a half, is made of chain where it drags the bottom, and of twine on the top portion. The dredges are used in from three to thirty feet of water from the windward side of the boat, with a length of line varying with the depth and also with the speed, the line being shortened when the wind is light, to prevent anchoring the boat, and if the wind is very light the number of the dredges must be lessened. After sailing a certain distance the dredges are brought in one by one and dumped on the culling board, where the contents are assorted; the small crabs are thrown overboard, the winkles and

Bringing a Dredge on Board.

starfish thrown one side for fertilizers, and the scallops shoveled into the hold. Thirty bushels a day is a fair catch for a boat, while fifty bushels is considered to be a good day's work.

Two other species are found on our Atlantic coast, both rare south of Cape Cod, one of which is common on the coast of Maine, is extensively fished for, and is very large. The species now under consideration is rare north of Cape Cod and extends as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. In summer it is found among the eel-grass, where it breeds, and in the autumn comes into the shallow waters to feed. It moves by swimming in a dancing manner by suddenly closing its shells and ejecting the water and then taking in more. This is a beautiful sight in an aquarium, where they dance about like castanets played by an invisible hand. They are often seen in great schools, moving along, and when the tide is with them they sometimes go half a mile before dropping to the bottom. The scallop can see quite well, being furnished with a row of thirty or more beautiful blue eyes in the outer edge of the mantle of each side, the eyes increasing in number with the growth of the animal. This mantle is the "rim" of the fisherman, and, with the gills and a very flabby stomach, is about all of the scallop, except the great adductor muscle before mentioned. This muscle leaves no mark in the shells, such as is seen in the shells of the oyster and quahaug or hard clam. The shells of the scallop are unequal, the lower one being more convex and lighter in color than the other, and in opening them the dark side is held uppermost by a right-handed man, because it brings the "meat," which is not in the center, in the proper place for speedy work; a left-handed person, of course, requires the deep white side up. The openers, or "shuckers" as they would be called in Baltimore and the South, stand in a row in front of the benches, and drop the shells through a hole into a barrel, toss the meats in a square box holding two quarts, and the rims into another place, and they become very expert at this in time. Men and women open from fifteen to eighteen gallons a day, and children often open three or four gallons after school. Formerly the price paid for this work was twenty-five cents per gallon for all, but of late years the price has dropped with the market price of the meats to sixteen cents for large and twenty-five for small ones. In November, 1894, the shippers only got sixty-five cents a gallon from the market men and many stopped fishing, and the season of 1895 was no better, the fishermen attributing the failure to dredging late in the spring when the seed of the year was marketed in order to get high prices. They open two quarts to the bushel of shells and vary in size from eighty to three hundred and twenty to the quart; a gallon will weigh about eight pounds. Fifteen years ago fifty thousand bushels of shells were sold to oyster planters for catching spat, at two and a half cents per bushel; now the shells sell at six cents per bushel, and in some shops the rims are left with the shells. The shell of the scallop is excellent for catching oyster spat, because it is so fragile that it goes to pieces before the oysters begin to crowd and deform each other, as is the case where many set on a hard shell like that of the oyster.

In New York markets Rhode Island scallops have a reputation for excellence that may or may not be deserved, for in that city "Oyster Bay asparagus" is a label put on almost all bunches of that vegetable as soon as the product of New Jersey arrives; all small hard clams are "Little Necks" although that part of Long Island does not market over fifty thousand bushels in a year, and the quality of tenderness and flavor varies as it does

The Culling Board.

with "Blue Point" oysters, a term now used for most small oysters, as "Saddle Rock" is for large ones, although no oysters have been taken from that rock in twenty years. So much for a reputation; but the expert housewife looks the different lots of scallops over, passes by the white ones, and buys those of a yellow tint. The fact is that the meat of the scallop is naturally a faint yellow, but soaking whitens and injures it. This soaking in fresh water is done to make them swell and measure more, and it increases their bulk by about a third until the frying-pan has done its work, when they will be found to have shrunken to less than the original size; hence it is best to avoid the white meats if possible. It is probable that the price for the unwatered scallops would be better if all shippers would agree to stop the practice, and then all scallops would be "Rhode Islands," although market men say that some from that State are watered. The practice is a bad one, because it injures the sale of the meats, as may be seen by comparing the prices in the markets. The scallop is never shipped alive in the shell, because it breaks easily

Loading a Wagon.

and does not live more than a day or two out of the water; besides, being so bulky, the freight would be higher.

Fried with bacon is the most popular way this mollusk is served, although it is occasionally broiled or stewed, and in New York restaurants the order, "Fry, half and half," is often given, which means oysters and scallops, or it is sometimes "A fry, half scallops," for "a fry" is supposed to mean oysters alone. It is only some forty years since the scallop has been known in the markets and became an object of pursuit by the fishermen. Dr. De Kay, although living at Oyster Bay, on Long Island, knew little of it as food, for in his Mollusca, Part V, Zoology of New York, 1843, he says: "It abounds on shallow sandy bottoms and is taken in great quantities for food, the broad and stout muscular portion being the only part of the animal used. This is boiled and put in vinegar, and considered by many as a great delicacy." The "great quantities" in those days meant a few hundred bushels, eaten by the dwellers on Long Island bays, for at that time there was no market for them. The rich, sweet taste of the scallop is disagreeable to a few persons and has been known to produce nausea at times, but to many its tenderness and pronounced flavor are more agreeable than those of any other bivalve.

An old legend claims that the scallop shell rightfully belonged, as a badge, not to the Crusaders and pilgrims to the Holy Land, but only to such as had made the pilgrimage to the celebrated shrine of St. James at Campostella, in Spain, as may be learned from the following account of a miracle:

"The ship in which the body of St. James was conveyed to its last resting place happening to draw near the coast during the performance of certain nuptial festivities, the bridegroom's horse, becoming ungovernable, plunged into the sea and together with its rider sank; but, at the moment the ship was passing by, rose again, close alongside of it. There were several miracles in this case. The first was, that the sea bore upon its waves the horse and horseman as if it had been firm land, after not having drowned them when they were so long under water. The second was, that the wind, which was driving the ship at full speed into port, suddenly fell and left it motionless; while the third and most remarkable was that both the garments of the knight and the trappings of his horse came out of the sea covered with scallop shells, which were afterward enjoined to be worn in commemoration of the event." If such a miracle should happen at New Suffolk to-day the judgment of the inhabitants would be like that in the historical eel case—the scallops would be sent to the shops, and the horse and its rider would be "set again."

Like all marine shells, our scallop is not as clean on the outside when it comes from the water as it appears after preparation for ornamental use. Many forms of animal and vegetable life have attached to it and made their homes upon it, especially on the upper or flatter valve. Here we find the red boring sponge which eats pinholes in all shells, inhabited or not, cutting through to the lining of nacre and occasionally through that to the interior. This injury is promptly repaired from the inside, but small elevations remain to show where the breach was healed. Tube worms build their twisted houses in such masses as to impede the movements of the scallop, and they have been known to bind several individuals together in a mass by their calcareous tubes while the mollusks were lying quiescent, a fact which seems to show that at some seasons the scallop must remain in one place for some time, long enough for the tube worms (Serpula contortuplicata) to grow and build their dwellings as increase of size demands. Probably fair-sized colonies on two contiguous shells may not require many days in the growing season to unite in those shelly knots that may be broken but can never be untied.

The Shops and Shells.

Oysters, "jingles," and "deckers"[1] set on the shell and grow and impede its progress until it wearies of life and dies.

While on the subject of the shells of this animal it may be worthy to note that in addition to their acrobatic efforts to regain the water when left on shore by the tide, some of the old writers credited them with the sailing powers of the nautilus or "Portuguese man-of-war," and have asserted that, "by flapping their valves with a very quick motion, they can rise from their beds in the deep and navigate the surface, having one shell raised and so disposed as to catch the breeze in its concavity, while the other serves as a boat." We know that they can move below the surface, but must draw the line there.

In the month of May, 1895, I found eggs of the scallop well developed in the ovaries of the animal and apparently ripe, as they were extruded with slight pressure, but found no ripe males at the time, and therefore failed to impregnate the eggs. They were transparent and measured eighty to the centimetre, or over two hundred to the inch. The absorption of water during the time in which they could have been fertilized would have enlarged the eggs, but to what extent is unknown. On June 10th I found microscopic scallops attached to blades of grass and weeds by a byssus, apparently like that of the mussel; they measured about eighteen to the centimetre, something over forty-five to the inch. Lack of circulation killed them in three days, and another lot was collected on June 18th, which were apparently of the same size.[2] No more were found until August 18th, when the growth was noticeable, the shells measuring about two centimetres, or three quarters of an inch. These last were taken from the bottom, and had lost the threads which had attached them to the grass.

Scallops are generally believed to live but a few years, many of the fishermen limiting them to only two, but this is a difficult matter to determine. They spawn in May in the bays of Long Island, perhaps in June also; the young attach to the eel-grass, and in August will measure three quarters of an inch across the shell. The next year they are about the size of an American silver dollar, and are too small for the use of most persons and for market. They are thrown on the beach at Cold Spring Harbor and along the north shore of Long Island by the winter winds and freeze in great numbers, and a frozen scallop never recovers life, as some mollusks are said to do. In this harbor there is often a good set of scallops on the grass, but their weight usually breaks the grass, and they are drifted out into Long Island Sound to stock other grounds, and it is only once in several years that there is anything like a scallop crop in the harbor, and when the season is called good the local demand takes them all, and none reach the market. The fact that this harbor, and Oyster Bay also, are extensively planted with oysters, would prevent dredging for scallops to any great extent if they were plenty, and the few that are taken are caught by the oystermen in their rowboats. From our present observations it seems as if the scallop might be fit for market in the winter after it is two years old, but not before. How long it may live after that it is impossible to say, further than to judge by the age of oysters and other animals that may attach to the shell of the living scallop, and it is more than likely that their attachment may cause its early death. Blackfish (tautog) eat them, the sheepshead crunches them, and they are often taken from the stomach of the cod and other fishes. The starfish, that devourer of all the shell-bearing mollusks and great enemy of the oyster, destroys them from the time the shell begins to form until the limit of growth is attained, and never desists while life is left in this interesting and useful bivalve.

  1. Jingles and deckers are fishermen's names for Anomia glabra and Crepidula fornicata, which, like the oyster, attach to shells, stones, etc.
  2. After these investigations, and since this article was written, Dr. James L. Kellogg has published similar observations on the scallop in the Report of the U. S. Fish Commissioner for 1893.