Scalloping with the F/V Isabel & Lilee.

Last June (2020), I heard about a scallop boat selling scallops right off the dock down in Harwich. In non-covid days this was pretty rare, but due to Covid, fishermen needed to pivot and look at how they could continue selling their seafood while wholesale and restaurant business was coming to a halt. Direct from dock to {masked} consumer was an option that made great sense and allowed consumers on Cape Cod access to the freshest seafood they’d probably ever get their hands on.

After learning about these direct from dock scallops, I thought that it would be a fun field trip for Lucca, Lexi and me to make a day trip to Harwich for some of these day boat scallops – and we’d stop for a beach visit, lobster roll and ice cream cones.

The boat was the 45 foot fishing vessel Isabel & Lilee, run by Captain Chris Merl. We masked up and picked up our two pounds of scallops and our scallop shells (which the kids thought were the most beautiful shells they’d ever seen) at the dock and went on with our adventure. It’s rare that kiddos, or anyone for that matter, get to actually see where their food comes from. It was a great day.

After our visit, I continued following this scalloping family on Instagram (Chris’ wife Denice is a critical part of the team and works hard to keep the very busy business running behind the scenes – social media, quality control, virtual cooking classes, farmer’s markets, pop-ups, reports, data, paperwork, etc. Chris and Denice also have 3 grown children, all who have been a part of the family business.) and have learned so much about scallops and scalloping from them. Plus, they share amazingly delicious ways to prepare scallops – who doesn’t need a great new scallop recipe?!

Denice and I had chatted back and forth over the past year about making a visit to the boat and we finally had that opportunity last week. Adrian and I headed to Provincetown to meet Denice and Chris right on deck of the F/V Isabel & Lilee. The boat and 2 man crew (Chris and Shane) had just gotten in and unloaded the 400 lbs of scallops and Denice and Lilee (one of Chris and Denice’s daughters) were headed to pack up all the scallops to sell at their pop-up at Cape Cod Beer that afternoon. Between the craziness of their day, they graciously let Adrian and me aboard to see the operation and ask them a bunch of questions. Here’s some of what we learned.

Chris is no newbie to scalloping.

Chris has been scalloping for 32 years. He also owns an aquaculture grant for clams and oysters, but his primary focus is scallops. Chris will go out on the water year-round (scallops aren’t seasonal), regardless of temperature, which makes scalloping a sometimes pretty treacherous occupation. He tries to work around some of the nasty weather we can get on the Cape, but with set schedules at farmer’s markets and pop-ups, sometimes they don’t have the luxury of flexibility. If weather is going to be tough, often times he’ll need to adjust the location he chooses to scallop in and move to somewhere more protected from wind and storm surges. The day before we met Chris on the boat, there had been very strong winds, so he scalloped in a more protected spot about 4 miles off shore on the back end of Truro. The two man crew (Chris and Shane) typically goes out for day trips, lasting +/- 30 hours – which means they are scalloping overnight most trips. Coffee is critical as sleep deprivation for fishermen is real.

Best part of the job? Hardest part of the job?

I asked Chris what the best part of the job is and the hardest part.

The best part:

  • Seeing sunrises, sunsets, whales, porpoises, sun fish – and yes, he’s seen {only} one great white shark
  • Being his own boss. He has one employee (Shane) – otherwise he’s working with family – Denice, daughter Lilee and sometimes their son Aiden and daughter Isabel (you can see how they got the boat name Isabel & Lilee)
  • Leaving the hot land in the middle of summer and  headed out on the water for the cool breezes (nature’s air conditioner)

The hardest part:

  • Sleep deprivation

What method of fishing do they use?

The method they use for scalloping is dredging, which is that large piece of metal equipment on the right hand side in the picture below. It scrapes the bottom of the ocean, usually for 40 minutes to an hour at a time, then is hauled up and dumped on deck. The crew then tosses back any bycatch (which is minimal and usually only includes sand dollars). On a typical trip they’d return with +/- 600 lbs of scallops, though not this time out, because of the weather limiting their location for scalloping.

Lilee, standing on deck.

Where can you get these day boat scallops from F/V Isabel and Lilee?

So, you must be wondering where you can buy scallops from Chris and Denice? This summer (2021), you can find them:

✔️Cape Cod Beer pop ups (Hyannis)
✔️Orleans Farmer’s Market
✔️Bass River Farmer’s Market

Follow them on Instagram so you can keep up with their whereabouts, as sometimes schedules change. Seek them out – I promise they will be the best scallops you’ll ever eat. And you’ll be supporting an incredible fishing family.

Favorite way to eat scallops?

I asked Chris what his favorite way to eat scallops was – scallop ceviche topped the list, as did scallop casserole and scallops with bacon. Denice said she also loves them seared with rice and a yummy sauce.

A few fun facts about scallops:

  • The average age of the scallops harvested is 5-6 years. Each ring (see picture below) represents a year of growth for the scallop.
  • Scallops have about 60 blue eyes that line its shell that allow the scallop to detect light and dark and motion.

A special thanks to Chris and Denice for having us onboard! I’ve fallen even more in love with scallops after our visit.

Scroll down for some great pictures from our visit.

Chris teaching us how to shuck a scallop. Each ring here on the scallop represents one year of growth. 

From left to right: The team! Lilee (Chris and Denice’s daughter), Chris, Shane and Denice. 

This is where the scallops are shucked. 

After the scallops are shucked, the shells and innards are tossed out these doors back into the water. All scallops are shucked at sea. 

Chris and Adrian talking shop.

That Isabel Lilee fishing vessel is a beauty!

Chris teaching Adrian how to shuck.


Then, my turn. The guys do it in seconds. I butchered a few poor scallops, but started to get the slow hang of it. 

Having fun learning this new skill. The scallop portion that we eat is the muscle. The rest of it goes overboard. 

Look at that beauty of a scallop!

Thanks to Chris and Denice for their hospitality!