Freediving for your food – Part 3 – Scallops

One of the most declicious shellfish you can get your hands on in my humble opinion.

The Scallop (Family Pectinidae)

The scallop is a fan shaped mollusc, which spends 99.99% of its life sitting on the sea bed filtering microscopic plankton for its food (the other 0.01 percent it spends flitting about like a falling leaf). It ranges in size from the microscopic to something as big as a large side plate. There are size guide and minimum sizes applicable in the UK, but as a rule of thumb I dont bother picking up anything which is smaller than the palm of my hand. Its meat is white and sweet and very tasty, pure muscle no guts to munch on here so even the most squeemish of shellfish eaters tensd to be ok with it. As you dont actually eat any internal organs, you dont have to worry so much about seasonal poisoning like in muscles.

Finding one…

Scallops are quite easy to find if you are in the right area. They sit flat on the seabed but tend to keep their shells ‘ajar’  so that they can feed and look out for predators (yes they have eyes, although these only sense changes in light). Scallops are found on sandy/muddy seabeds, often in or near deep estuaries. Look for areas where currents would keep them well stocked with passing nutrients, so tidal rivers and harbours are a good bet. Forget surf zones and areas of fast movement, scallops like calm water.

I find it easier to initially scan the seabed from the surface to find a suitable hunting ground, then to dive to the bottom and skim the seabed as close as you can. You will then be able to see the scallops from the side (being slightly open) rather than trying to see them from the top which can be difficult as they tend to be covered in silt. Dont bother looking amongst kelp or in dense seagrass as they will almost always be out in the open.

You don’t have to dive deep for scallops. They can be in water of any depth, but are easily found in the 5-20m range. You have to be over ground that is always submerged and is not exposed at low tide.

Grabbing one…

Scallops can swim… but if you cant catch one then you shouldnt be in the water to be honest.  They can propel themsleves my flapping theur shells open and closed and dont go far or fast. Often they wont bother.

Therefore… cathching one goes something like this.

See the scallop….. extend arm…. open hand…. grasp scallop….. put in bag…. and repeat until bag has enough for dinner.

Cooking one…

The scallop is easily prepared and very quickly cooked.

  1. Clean the outside of the scallop to avoid getting any grit and dirt on the meat when you open it.
  2. Hold it convex side down in the palm of your hand.
  3. Take a  knife and gently prise the shell apart. Do this from near the hinge part and move up to avoid smashing thee shell.
  4. Move knife against the inside of the flat side of the shell and whilst keeping it really close to the shell move it all the way through the scallop. This detaches the muscle from the shell.
  5. Open the shell completely.
  6. Use a spoon to remove the animal from the shell.
  7. Hold the white muscle and rip away the entrails from the muscle. This is quite easy and you cant really mess it up. Be warned, until you have done this the animal will be alive so do it quickly. Even after this stage the muscle may have residual involutary twitches which can be a bit freaky and off-putting. You can keep the orange roe on the muscle if you want but this cooks quicker than the muscle so i like to separate this too.
  8. Clean your now separated white muscles and remove any left over dark tissues.

Cooking is very quick. Simply sear on each side in a hot pan for a couple of minutes on each side until they resemble a lightly toasted marshmallow.

Eat with chilli or garlic butter…… yum………..

Comments 6

    1. hi,
      i have been working many years as a scallop diver here on the west coast of scotland, though originally from england. Although i would not encourage newcomers to the water to go and dive for them, it is entirely possible though in my opinion dangerous. Clams do not favour slow moving water in fact, and will live anywhere they can get fed, usually just out of but close to heavy tidal areas. I would be very happy to answer any questions and be of any help.

      1. Post

        I would agree with you in regards to clams (surf etc), but during slack water (this is the key), scallop diving is really very easy. Its often less than 8m deep, flat bottom, calm water. The only danger is normally boat traffic. Thanks for your comment though.

  1. hi there i am confused on the laws of scallop diving i have heard even a one man licence can cost ten grand for a rib and outboard ? what if a walk in/swim loch etc…some sites say cornwall no longer can you take scrollpos some say you can all this seems a minefield please help thanks james

    1. Post

      It all depends on where you do it and why you do it. If you want them for your own consumption, its fine… go for it……
      In Devon you need a license (£20 for 2 years IFCA Devon and severn website). Cornwall you dont… Best check with your local fisheries dept

  2. Hi I’ve just finished my commercial diving certs in Scotland and I am looking for scallop diving work in devon as that’s were I live but finding it hard to find any boats in devon that dive for scallops.
    Can anyone help

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