Atlantic Bay Scallop
Common Name(s): Atlantic Bay Scallop, Bay Scallop
Scientific Name: Argopecten irradians
Bay scallops have blue eyes, lots of them!
~Photo courtesy of Stephen Tettelbach
- The bay scallop is the official New York State shell symbol, designated in 1988.
- Bay scallops are bivalves, meaning they have two shells
- An adult scallop can swim across the ocean bottom by using their large adductor muscle (the part you eat!) that allows them to open and close its shells quickly and strongly, referred to as "clapping". This clapping action propels the animal through the water, as water jets out between the shells; an effective method for escaping from predators like crabs and starfish.
- Scallops have 18 pairs of blue eyes set along the margin of the shell that are used to detect shadow and movement.
Where Are They Found?
They range from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico, and are less commonly found in Nova Scotia. In New York, bay scallops are mostly found in the small bays and harbors of Peconic Bay on the eastern end of Long Island, and have also been found in Great South Bay, Moriches Bay, and Shinnecock Bay. Their preferred habitats are shallow coastal bays and estuaries with sandy and muddy bottoms and eelgrass beds.
What Do They Look Like?
Bay scallops grow to approximately 3 to 3-1/2 inches in length and live to two years of age. Shells are ribbed and possess a distinctive wing-like hinge. The shells also vary in color; they can be a bluish black color, orange, white or reddish brown.
What Do They Eat?
Bay scallops are filter-feeders, meaning they can siphon, or filter, small particles that float in the water. These particles are not visible to the human eye unless viewed under a microscope, and are called marine plankton. There are two types of plankton: !) phytoplankton, which are microscopic plants like algae and, 2) zooplankton, which are microscopic animals like larvae.
Brown Tide and Scallops
Since 1985 bay scallop populations have been decimated by repeated blooms of the brown tide algae in the 1980's and 1990's. Brown tide is caused by an increased growth of a golden-brown algae, or phytoplankton, making the water very murky with a coffee brown color, hence the name "brown tide". This phytoplankton prevents the bay scallop from feeding properly, causing bay scallops to starve during brown tide blooms. Furthermore, the large number of brown tide organisms in the water shade out sunlight from reaching eelgrass plants, causing them to die off. With the loss of the scallops preferred eelgrass bed habitats, it becomes more difficult for scallops to recover. Commercial harvesting of bay scallops has drastically decreased since the first brown tide bloom 21 years ago. The scalloping industry in New York has yet to recover from the devastating effects of the brown tide. Read more about the brown tide and other harmful algal blooms.
The adductor muscle, shown here, is
the only part of the scallop that is
Catch Limits and Seasons: You can get information on seasons and catch limits for both recreational and commercial bay scallop harvesting. Commercial shellfish harvesters must have a shellfish diggers permit and meet other department requirements. A harvest area map is available online for commercial shellfish harvesters to record on harvest tags.
Shellfish Closures: Shellfish like clams, oysters, mussels and scallops may only be taken from areas that are designated as certified by DEC. Here are several items you can check before going out in the field:
- Descriptions of all uncertified harvest areas
- Emergency closures due to temporary water quality conditions that may render shellfish unsafe for human consumption. The Emergency Closure Hotline: (631) 444-0480 is also available to find out if an area near you is temporarily closed to shellfishing.
If you have questions or would like more information on shellfish harvesting, please contact the Bureau of Marine Resources by e-mail or by calling (631) 444-0475.