October 25th, 2016 — Togue Brawn and I hunker down in the wheelhouse for warmth, next to the captain who’s got one hand on his radio, the other turning the wheel. The GPS, he grunts, is broken. He’s navigating blind.
Behind us on the deck, an enormous spool of steel cable unravels and drops an iron-mesh dredge—basically a supersized bag-like fishing net—down to the seafloor. The boat circles until the captain makes the call and the spool retracts, pulling up the dredge, which appears suddenly at the boat’s stern, swinging to and fro. Two deckhands, each clad in orange rubber overalls and knee-high boots, grab for the large bar beneath the net, yelling above the engine’s roar. The net groans with scallops, each nestled safely inside its brown shell flecked with mud and barnacles.
The deckhands start sorting, small scallops arching overboard and larger ones clattering into nearby bins. Then they don thick workman’s gloves to pry open the shells, tossing the entrails into the sea; the jiggling adductor muscle, the part we eat, goes into buckets, where they gleam bright white. All around us, on the decks of near-identical boats (mostly retrofitted lobster vessels) other fishermen—and they are almost all men—do the same, silhouetted against the pink streaks of a frigid dawn. By mid-morning, they have found their rhythm, and the whole of it—the unwinding, dragging, hauling, sorting, and shucking—coupled with the bobbing of the boat, feels like an act of meditation.
The scene will no doubt replay tomorrow and the day after that and so on until the season is done. Today is December 1, and scalloping season has opened in eastern Maine.