ASK THE AQUARIUM: How Do You Clean Scallops?
Q. My neighbor mentioned that scallops have to be "cleaned." What needs cleaning?
A. Unlike clams and oysters, which we eat whole, the only part of a scallop eaten in the United States is the adductor muscle -- the strong muscle that opens and closes the scallop's shell. Some cultures, however, do indeed consume the entire animal.
Scallops have internal organs like other bivalves -- stomach, heart, mantle, gills and then some. These must be cleaned out and the highly-prized adductor muscle cut away from the shell. This is what people mean when talking about "cleaning" scallops. Locally, this process is also known as "shucking" scallops.
Like their bivalve relatives, scallops are filter-feeders, dining on microscopic plants and animals carried on the currents. Three types of scallops are harvested along the East Coast: bay scallops, calico scallops and sea scallops. Only calico and bay scallops are native to North Carolina waters. Sea scallops, the large variety served in most restaurants, remain an important commercially-landed species in North Carolina, but are most commonly caught from Virginia northward.
Bay scallops are much smaller than sea scallops, and the calico scallop is an offshore variety that mysteriously appears in massive beds off our coast. It's even smaller than the bay scallop and is harvested by large ocean-going vessels. Both calico and bay scallops are said to be sweeter and more tender than their northern counterparts.
Bay scallops live in grass beds. Because of this habitat requirement, they are found only in two southeastern states -- North Carolina and Florida. Bay scallops are both male and female, and spawning takes place at about six months of age. After eggs and sperm are released into the water, larval scallops float on currents for about two weeks before settling into a grass bed to grow their shells. They must grow quickly, as their life span is rarely longer than two years.
Bay scallops once supported a significant fishery in North Carolina -- valued at over a million dollars in 1980 -- and were highly sought after by recreational shellfishers. Today, however, the harvest is negligible due to population declines. Some scientists think the demise is because of heavy predation by stingrays. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries regulates when scallops can be harvested and in what amounts.
The state operates three public aquariums; one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island. The aquariums are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina's aquatic environment. For more information about the Aquariums, visit www.ncaquariums.com, or call 800-832-FISH.
Sherry White works for the N.C. Aquariums public affairs office.
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