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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

Collecting Shellfish

Something almost anyone can catch is shellfish. They really don't put up much of a fight, or try to escape, so even a beginning diver can take something home for the dinner table.

But Should You Eat It ?

See Health Advisories for information on mercury and other pollutants in seafood.


Mussels are easy. they grow almost everywhere - on any hard surface. They are the lawn grass of the sea. All you have to do is pluck them and put them in your bag. Don't waste a lot of time selecting them individually underwater. Just grab big clumps as fast as you can, and stuff them in your bag. Sort them out topside later, when your nitrogen clock isn't running. Take more than you think you'll want, because you will end up discarding a lot of what you take this way.

A big bag of mussels can be quite heavy and require a lot of air in your BC to lift, so make sure that you ascend the anchor line when returning to the boat. Barring that, shoot the mussels to the surface with a lift bag to avoid making an especially risky free ascent.

Try to collect mussels only from the higher parts of a wreck, away from the bottom. Mussels collected from low down are more likely to contain sand and mud. Offshore mussels are generally cleaner than inshore, except in the Mud Hole, where everything is filthy. I've never taken mussels from an inlet jetty, but I wouldn't be surprised if they tasted like gasoline !

The quantity of mussels on our wrecks varies. Often-hit wrecks such as the Spartan and Stolt Dagali are often picked-clean by divers. One of the best mussel wrecks in the area is now the Beth Dee Bob, where they grow almost a foot deep in spots, and as clean as a whistle. Inshore, the Dykes is not a bad place to get them, although they are a little dirty.

Mussels are sparse on the Stolt Dagali.

Back in the boat, it's now time to clean your mussels. Take the clumps out, and pull the individual mussels apart. Each mussel is attached by a tuft of tough fibers known as a "beard". It is important to not pull the beard out of the animal at this point, otherwise it will die prematurely and spoil. The best size is 1 1/2 " - 2 1/2 ". Bigger ones are impressive, but not as good. Separate out the keepers, and throw the rest overboard, where they will feed the fish.

Keep a sharp eye for other creatures while you work on your mussels. You will find many things, such as tiny starfish and crabs, clam worms, and other miniature residents of the mussel patch that you would otherwise never see. Throw them all overboard. Finally, put the separated mussels in a mesh catch bag. Tie a rope around the bag and thread it through the handle. Don't tie the rope directly to the handle of the bag, as it will rip off eventually from this. When the boat is under way, toss the bag out and tow it behind in the wake for 5-10 minutes.

When you haul them back in, they will be bright and shiny. Don't overload the bag or leave it out for too long, as this will result in pulverized mussels and eventually a torn or even lost bag. And don't forget to take the bag back in before you get to port, otherwise the boat may back over it, and you will have no mussels, no bag, and a very angry captain to deal with.

Put the clean mussels on ice in a cooler. They will keep alive in your refrigerator for several days. You can also freeze them alive and they will keep for a very long time. There are many mussel recipes that can be found with a quick search.


Scallops are not nearly so easy to get as Mussels, but are well worth it. I have never seen a scallop in less than 90 ft of water, most often in 110 ft and below. Sadly, the commercial scallop boats have quite efficiently decimated the scallop population, and they are fairly rare, especially in any kind of useful quantity.

When you do get into a field of scallops though, life is good. Scallops live on the surface of the sand ( rarely on the deck of a wreck ) where each one will excavate a shallow pit. The pits are usually 2-3 ft apart, and a good field of scallops will stretch as far as you can see. Fortunately, good fields like this are usually in the vicinity of wrecks or snags, where the scallop boats will not go with their expensive bottom gear.

Once you've found the scallops, all you have to do is pick them up, as fast as you can. There is a minimum size to observe, but your biggest worry will be bottom time. At the depths that scallops are found, your nitrogen clock will be running fast, and it is easy to get greedy and stay too long. A big bag of scallops can be quite heavy and require a lot of air in your BC to lift, so make sure that you ascend the anchor line when returning to the boat. Barring that, shoot the scallops to the surface with a lift bag to avoid making an especially risky free ascent.

Once you are back in the boat, it is time to clean your catch. Sort out the undersized ones and toss them back. Get a long-bladed knife - a fillet knife will work; your dive knife will do in a pinch. You don't want anything very sharp that you might cut yourself with; purpose-made scallop knives are quite dull.

On either side of the shell's hinge is an opening where you can slide the knife in. Insert it along the hinge, and work it outwards along the flat lower shell, to cut the shell-closing muscle. Open the animal up, and look for the adductor muscle, the one you just cut. It will be a firm white round plug. Cut it out with your knife, or just pluck it out with your fingers. The muscle is the only edible part of the scallop - discard the rest. This is the depressing part of collecting scallops: a bag full of shells yields just a cup full of plugs. But are they good! You can even eat them raw, if you are prone to such things. As with all seafood, get them on ice immediately. There are many scallop recipes that can be found with a quick search.


Since the 1980s, it has been illegal to take scallops from Federal waters ( beyond 3 miles ) without a Federal scallop permit.



Moon Snails are commonly eaten as Scungilli. They are sometimes very common offshore; more than that I can't say.

Large Whelks are sometimes eaten as Conch, but these are most often collected in bay waters.

Clams live beneath the surface of the sand, and would be difficult for a diver to collect.

Oysters are also found in shallow bay waters. Oyster diving in the Chesapeake Bay is a winter-time way to get in the water.



I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted



since 2016-09-11