The scallops were returned to 3-foot-deep water.
The scallops were returned to 3-foot-deep water.
Peter Brace

After last week’s nor’easter blew tens of thousands of scallops onto Nantucket’s shores, volunteers spent the weekend hauling the mollusks into deeper water. An unlucky few ended up in bubbling pots as a reward for volunteers’ hard work.

Volunteers got to take home a bushel. (Peter Brace)

Scallops often wash up on the beaches or get trapped in shallow water after storms, but sustained winds forced more scallops onto the sand than usual, said Peter Brace, chairman of the Nantucket Harbor and Shellfish Advisory Board.

“Anytime it blows northwest, north, northeast, east, we can get scallop strandings,” Brace said. “But unlike Hurricane Sandy, where we had basically one day of strong winds, it was Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that the wind blew.”

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The mollusks washed ashore along the Polpis Road shoreline, from Wauwinet Beach to Monomoy Beach, and in front of the University of Massachusetts Field Station, he said.

Nantucket’s harbormaster distributed fliers asking for volunteers to help in a coordinated effort to rescue the mollusks after the nor’easter, Brace said.

More than 100 people, including scallopers, showed up over the weekend to carry the shelled creatures to safety, he said.

“Everyone just wants to help, and it was a beautiful day, both Saturday and Sunday,” Brace said.

The rescuers raked up the stranded scallops and dumped them into buckets to carry them back to the water. They also used floating containers to carry the mollusks out of shallow water into deeper water.

“You can walk as out as far as your waders will let you and distribute them out in at least three-feet-deep water,” said Peter Boyce, who is also a member of the shellfish advisory board.

In a reverse of the usual procedure, scallopers also brought their boats close to shore, loaded up with scallops, and chucked them near the shoals of the harbor, which are well protected.

Joining the rescue had an additional perk: People with valid recreational scallop permits or a commercial scalloping permit could take home one bushel of adult scallops, as they can every day Wednesday through Sunday, Brace said.

Brace said he hopes to make future scallop rescues more organized and less about the free shellfish, he said. There are talks of a scallop seed stranding team, comprised of volunteers who would walk the beaches after a big storm and report strandings.

Scallop seed are the younger scallops that have not yet gone through their first winter, Boyce said. Older scallops show a ridge, which typically indicates that the mollusk has spawned. Scallopers are legally allowed to collect the animals that show a ridge bigger than 10 millimeters in diameter, he said. The younger ones should be thrown back.

Leaving stranded scallop seed on the shore is “a sure way to kill your scallop population,” Boyce said.

Brace said there are several factors that could have contributed to the vast amount of scallops in need of rescue. First, there is a larger population of scallops in the waters, thanks to Nantucket’s shellfish biologist, who has taken steps to beef up their numbers.

Another factor is the loss of habitat in the harbor, largely due to water pollution, Brace said. Young scallops often attach themselves to eel grass, which provides stability and protection from predators.

“Without the eel grass to sort of hold the scallops in place, they sort of sit on the bottom,” he said. With nothing to hold onto, the scallops are easily blown onto shores.

Storms have battered Nantucket’s jetties, which are almost underwater during high tide, Brace said. Rebuilding the jetties would create a stronger flow of water in and out of the harbor, washing out excessive nutrients that lead to algae blooms.

Too much algae can interfere with scallops’ ability to filter water to breathe and eat, Brace said. Algae also attach to the eel grass, making it hard for scallops to latch on, and cloud the water, blocking sunlight from hitting the grass and preventing it from growing, he said.

Boyce, who also runs a scallop research program at the Maria Mitchell Association, conducted an independent project to determine the survival rate of stranded scallops.

Boyce collected scallops and observed them in cages. He determined that they could survive 24 hours or more, depending on the temperature.

“If it’s freezing cold, they’ll freeze to death,” he said.

He said his project shows that it is worthwhile to rescue the scallops because they are “reasonably tough.”