I took this picture of a load of sea scallops being washed at sea on the Karen Elizabeth. That face wearing the happy grin is my neighbor. His name is also John Lee, which causes some confusion, both down in the Point and around town: No, not that John Lee. John now runs another scallop boat called the Yankee Pride. But when this shot was taken four years ago, he was the mate on the Karen Elizabeth.
The Karen freezes and packages her scallops directly for the restaurant trade. This is how it works. The scallops, once they have been removed from the shell, enter a washer. In the washer, flowing saltwater removes bits of shell and sand. The scallops then travel into a grader, which sorts the meats by size. From there, the scallops head down a chute into the packing room below-decks. This all makes it sound like the boat’s huge. At just under 80 feet in length, with a crew of seven guys, it’s not.
Last year, the boat was at sea, scalloping, 78 days. After the scallop season is over, the crew hauls all the scallop gear off the boat and loads all the squid gear on. This conversion takes about two weeks.
Once in the hold, the scallops are put in freezer bags and weighed on a fancy scale accurate enough to weigh individual molecules. As Chris Roebuck, captain and owner of the Karen Elizabeth, says, “Each bag weighs 7 pounds. We will adjust the weight by adding or subtracting individual scallops to get seven pounds. Then we know that each box, four bags per, weighs 28 pounds. If we are allowed to land 18,000 pounds, then that is what we land—not a scallop over, not a scallop under. If you come in with less scallops than you were allowed to have, you just cost the crew money. If you come in with more, you’ll have to pay for a violation—costing the boat money. You want to be sure.”
After each bag is weighed, it gets vacuum-sealed. Then it goes into a box and gets blast frozen, like Han Solo. The Karen Elizabeth has 3 blast freezers. Each one can hold 2,900 pounds of scallops. From the blast freezers, boxed scallops go into the freezer hold. The freezer has a 95,000-pound capacity.
Most of the scallop fleet doesn’t do it this way. They use ice, not freezers. They don’t have scales or graders or conveyor belts leading into the fish hold. They do it like it has been done for decades. The big question is—is innovation worth it? Does a freezer boat, at year’s end, make more money than a more conventional boat? Is the comparison even possible? As John Lee says, “Scalloping is all about the skill level of the crew, mate, and captains–how fast they are at putting scallops down. In the end, with scalloping, this is what matters.” END.