How to Catch Scallops

How to Catch Scallops

A scallop is a bivalve mollusk, which means that has an interior muscle that is surrounded by two shells, like a clam or oyster. There are bay scallops that are found in shallow waters, bays, and estuaries and sea scallops that are found up to 200 meters deep waters. A lot of scallops are found in shallower water. Most will dive for scallops but go no further down than 20 meters, where you can find them. Look for a spot that is designated as a “hotspot” for scallops. You can also take a boat out and dive from the boat.

How to Catch Scallops

When diving for scallops, look for any recently disturbed sand or gravel areas where scallops may have been digging. It is sometimes hard to see them because they are a master of disguise. Generally, if you find one scallop, there are more around. Before you dive for scallops you need to have some type of mesh bag you can put them in. You will also need a quality pair of flippers and a snorkel mask. Some, when diving, will also use a diving oxygen tank. 

Using just flippers and a snorkel mask, generally, you will do it in three to six feet of water. Some scallops will try to do a backward move to get away from you while others will be lying there in plain sight for you to pick up. There is no real secret method for catching a scallop. You can just use your hand to scoop it up and put it in the mesh bag. Some use a small net to catch scallops. You need to keep moving to get your limit of scallops so keep kicking those flippers. You need to be able to cover as much ground as you can. 

When catching a scallop, most will try to grab them from behind to help prevent their finger from being clamped down on by the shell. It can be very painful to get pinched. Although scallops can reside 200 meters down, most will be found between 1.2-3.0 meters or 4 to 10 feet down and generally in clear water with a mix of sea vegetation. Try to find an area where there are not clusters of people looking for them as that area will already be picked over.

catching scallops

Once you have reached your limit, store them in a cooler immediately. The cold temperature will cause them to die with their shells open so this will make the cleaning process a lot easier and fresher. The scallops will also stay fresher.

Regulations for Catching Scallops

Some fisheries require that their divers measure the scallops they find to make sure they are the right size before they put them in their bag. In the Sounds, the minimum legal size is 90mm across the widest part of their shell. Most have a limit of 50 scallops per diver but the regulations are different in all regions so check to make sure before you catch scallops. In some circumstances, if the diver is diving for a boat that is actively engaged in the gathering process they can have a maximum of two extra bags. By engaging in the gathering process, this can mean assisting the diver by keeping an eye on the diver’s oxygen tank level and helping the diver in and out of the boat.

Scallop Season

They reach their peak during winter and late fall but are usually available year-round. Check to make sure where you are catching scallops if there is a certain time you can catch them.

The Difference Between Bay and Sea Scallops

As mentioned, there are two types of scallops. The bay scallops are smaller, about the size of a dime and are tender. The sea scallops are larger and can be as big as two inches. When you see scallops on a restaurant menu they are usually a sea scallop because they are bigger.

How to Make Sure You Do Not Dive Down More Than 20 Meters

One way to do this is to attach a light rope that will give you 20 meters of diving freedom to your catch bag and the other end to a brightly colored small float. This method will also make it easier to get your catch bag up to the boat. All you have to do is leave the bag on the bottom, get on the boat, and pull the line that is attached to your bag up to the boat.

How to Clean a Scallop

Generally, you will need a knife to open the shell so hold it with your left hand, using the tip of the knife to pry it open. Scrape off the dark membrane with the tip of the knife. Gently scrape your tip into the dark (top) part of the shell to release the scallop muscle, which will be white. Now it is ready to store or cook. 


When you dive for scallops, make sure that the bag you are using to place your catch in does not get too heavy to bring to the surface. Some divers have run out of oxygen trying to get a very heavy bag of scallops out of the water and to land or on a boat. You also need to make sure that you dive no more than 20 meters. 

Freshly cleaned scallops can be stored in your refrigerator for up to two days. If you are not going to use them within two days, you can freeze them for up to three months. 

When you are trying to catch scallops always be aware of your surroundings and watch where you step, especially if you are barefoot. Many times there are sea urchins around or near scallops and you do not want to step on one with their spiny body. They are not poisonous but it would hurt a lot. There may also be jellyfish around but again, they are not poisonous but can and will sting you if you step on them. Now you know how to catch scallops so have fun and enjoy eating them.

You might also enjoy learning How to Harvest Mussels.

More To Explore