Scalloping is truly backbreaking work.
Since Nov.1, professional solo scallopers have been hunched over pulling dredges — some weighing up to 75 pounds when full — along the bottom of the Peconic Bay nearly every day starting at 7 a.m. until about 1 or 2 p.m.. The goal is to harvest as many of the delicious and lucrative as possible while the getting's good.
Charlie Manwaring, owner of , loves the challenge and earthy nature of the work.
"It's meditative," he said. "I have fun being outside and getting out of the shop."
Manwaring was one of about 15 baymen to take his small scalloping boat from into the middle of Peconic Bay to work the waters near Mattituck last Tuesday, when the sky and sea blended equally in a wash of overcast gray and the water remained like glass throughout the chilly morning hours.
Individual scallopers are allowed by law to take 10 bushels per day of scallops, which currently sell in the retail market for $18 per pound. The area of the bay that several licensed scallopers work on a daily basis is big enough for everyone, Manwaring said.
"Someone will always hit something somewhere," he said.
The metal baskets that the scallopers drag along the bottom are eventually filled with what Manwaring calls "spaghetti grass" – a thick and slimy underwater plant resembling a seaweed spaghetti. It protects scallops and other plentiful aquatic wildlife, ranging from scrumptious blue claw crabs, conchs, and chowder clams to what the fisherman deem as useless spider crabs and slimy pieces of yellow living sponge referred to as "monkey dunk."
Manwaring, 35, comes from a lineage of local baymen and started work at the Southold Fish Market 24 years ago. He took up ownership of the business in 1999 and never looked back.
"It was a big part of my life growing up," he said. "We always missed school the first couple days of scallop season so I could be with my dad helping out. I have two daughters now, and they will definitely be out there with me."
Manwaring said that most scallops grow to be about 18 months and some can live two to three years over the winter on the bay bottom. Though he said that baymen were harvesting nearly 100 scallops per dredge in the beginning of the month, they're now ending up with about 25 per pull only a few weeks into the season, which ends March 31.
"But it's good," he said. "You're your own boss. You get what you get out here. It's a day's pay."
Manwaring added that he's also been seeing more and more "bug scallops" — young scallops still maturing on the bottom of the bay. And that, along with the variety of life he dredges up and sorts through on his 18-foot boat every day, is a very good sign for everyone.
"Years ago, this was a barren desert wasteland out here," he said of the Peconic Bay system. "There was nothing on the bottom. Now there's all of this. It must mean the bays are finally getting healthy again."