What are Scallops?

It is nice to know a little history of the scallop as a symbol of pilgrimage and fertility, but what are they? Scallops (like mussels and oysters) are bivalve molluscs. This means that they have two shells. The ‘great scallop’ familiar to Europeans is Pecten maximus. It is found on sandy or muddy sea beds and feeds by filtering microscopic organisms from the surrounding sea water.

Most scallops are hermaphrodites and spawn twice a year. Although the reproductive organs, or orange coloured roe (coral), are edible, the part of the scallop that most people really enjoy eating is the pale adductor muscle that opens and closes the shell.

Unlike other molluscs that we eat, such as mussels and oysters, most species of scallops are free-swimming and can propel themselves across the sea floor several feet at a time. The adductor muscle is used to rapidly open and close the scallop’s two beautiful fan-shaped shells enabling it to propel itself by expelling water.


Scallops are harvested in one of two ways—by trawling or by diving. Trawling is done by scraping the ocean floor and pulling up scallops.

A more environmentally friendly, albeit expensive, method of harvest is by diver and giving us “diver scallops.” A diver scallop is not another species of scallop, nor does it designate at size. Rather it describes the manner in which the scallops were harvested.

Divers go down and choose mature scallops by hand, leaving behind immature scallops as well as leaving the ocean floor alone. Since the ocean floor is not disturbed by the divers, diver scallops are usually less gritty than those harvested by bottom trawls.


Archaeological findings show that scallops have been eaten by humans for thousands of years, although until the advent of modern fishing techniques (scallops are usually found on seabeds) they formed a small part of the diet of opportunistic seaside foragers.

Today a number of species are found in waters around the world and scallops are esteemed in seafood-eating cultures everywhere. UK waters are a source of very fine scallops.

Throughout Europe scallops are mostly harvested by dredging. Aquaculture production (scallop farming – common in China and Japan) is increasing as techniques and yields improve and wild stocks decline. There is also a growing market for hand-dived specimens.