The scallop season opened on Thursday and keen scallopers will be heading out to check the condition of the early season delicacies.
Scallops are found in harbours and on sand or mud bottoms out to about 50m deep. Like most other sea creatures, scallops start life as a free-swimming embryo, but after about 48 hours they attach themselves to a rock or structure on the bottom where they live until reaching a few millimetres in size, when they drop to the seabed. Like all bi-valves they are filter feeders, sitting on or just under the sand with their shells slightly open, straining water to extract plankton. Scallops grow quickly and reach 60mm across in about a year, when they start breeding.
For most of the country the scallop season opened on July 15, but in the top half of the North Island it started on September 1. The delay is intended to give the delicate shellfish more time to regain condition after the cold winter.
It also allows more fishing through the summer, as the traditional season ends on February 14 while in the north it now runs until March 31.
Divers may take a limit for up to two people who assist by operating the boat, and when a trip is extended over more than one day a quota may be taken for each day, but like all shellfish and crayfish, the catch must be kept in a state which can be measured when taken ashore - in other words in the shell. The fishers must also be able to satisfy a fisheries inspector that the different bags were taken on different days.
One solution is to record each day's catch in a log book, with details of the fisher, the date and location of the catch. Scallops may be eaten at sea, but any scallops eaten count as part of the daily quota of 20 per person, and the empty shells must be kept as evidence of both the numbers and the minimum size of 100mm of the scallops taken. All other scallops must be taken ashore in the shell so they can be measured.
When dredging for scallops, only those actively involved in fishing are entitled to a daily bag limit. The limit bag varies around the country from 10 per day at Stewart Island, 50 per day in the Marlborough Sounds to 20 per day in the North Island.
When dredging for scallops, each person who takes a quota must be involved in the operation, by helping with the ropes, or sorting and counting the catch.
Some people get into trouble with the fisheries inspectors because they do not realise that scallops have to be measured and counted as they are brought on board, or in the case of divers, on the seabed. Once on the boat the scallops are deemed as having been taken, and any undersized or excess shellfish will attract a fine or other penalty.
In extreme cases, a boat may be forfeited. Occasionally scallops are washed ashore in a storm and they may be collected but the rules in terms of size and numbers still apply.
The only variation is that they may also be taken outside the season, but only if high and dry on the beach.
It is not permissible to wade out into shallow water and pick up scallops outside the season. Scallops are found all around the coast, and in Auckland on the Manukau Harbour and Kaipara Harbour.
On the east coast there are scallop beds off The Noises, Rakino Island and on the outside of Waiheke Island, in the Firth of Thames and right through the Bay of Plenty. When dredging it is important to match the size of dredge to the size of boat, as a large dredge can pull the stern of a small boat underwater if it becomes stuck on an obstacle on the seabed.
One trick is to mark the run, which is usually about 100m, on the GPS chart-plotter and when scallops are located go over the same marks or on a line alongside. Modern dredges are designed to float up to the surface when a plastic container is attached and run down the line, making retrieval easy.
It is also a good idea to drop baits for snapper after dredging, as the activity stirs up the sand and often attracts fish.
Snapper are occasionally found to have scallops in their stomachs, which have been crushed in the shell by their powerful jaws. Some people will also add an orange trout fly to their line, above the bait, and this could trigger an association with the orange roe of scallops. The fly can slide down above a swivel, or tied on the end of a short trace attached to a swivel, which allows more movement in the current.
In Rotorua, the beach by the main road on the Blue Lake is a good spot for an early-morning fly fish. The trout which have been liberated into the lake return to the beach as adults up to 3kg gather to spawn. This is one fishery which is mainly neglected as people drive past it on the way to Lake Tarawera over the hill. But the trout are in top condition.
Tip of the week
While there are many ways of cooking scallops, from a coating of breadcrumbs to a mornay sauce, fresh scallops are hard to beat when cooked simply in a little oil and butter in a hot pan, with a dusting of salt and pepper. Fry each side for one-to-two minutes depending on the heat, and do not overcook. The centre of the muscle should still be translucent when done.
Bite times today are 1.10am and 1.35pm, and tomorrow at 1.55am and 2.15pm. These are based on the moon phase and position, not tides, so apply to the whole country. More fishing action can be found at www.GTtackle.co.nz