6+ Reasons Why Scallops Are So Expensive

Scallops are expensive due to the challenges of farming, slow maturity, wild-caught nature, variety types, quick spoilage, and COVID’s impact on supply and demand.


Scallops are one of the most loved seafood items in America. In fact, it’s been estimated that American fisheries harvest about 49 million pounds of scallops every year.

With seemingly so much supply on the market, many people wonder why scallops cost so much money. Here are just a few of the factors that contribute to the high cost of scallops.

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1. Scallops cannot be easily farmed.


While the seafood industry has been relatively successful at learning how to farm most types of fish, oysters, and even some more exotic types of seafood, it has not figured out how to make scallop farming profitable.

Scallops need very specific conditions on the bottom of the sea floor, and typically prefer to have a much larger area than is practical for most aquafarmers.

2. Scallops take a long time to mature.

Scallop Farm 6+ Reasons Why Scallops Are So Expensive
Scallop cultivation farm with floats at the Sea of Japan rocky shore, Russian far east

In fact, a typical scallop will need to grow at least nine months before it is ready to be harvested. Unfortunately, most scallops take about four years before they’re ready to be bred reliably. That means a scallop farm will take years before it is self-sufficient enough to provide enough scallops for both harvesting and breeding stock for the next harvest.

The period of time between harvests is much longer than that of other species. For example, there are some types of fish that are ready for consumption within three to four months.

3. Nearly all scallops are wild-caught.

Wild caught seafood involves more labor and higher overhead costs as fishing boats have to spend time finding beds of scallops to harvest. It’s also necessary to pay for boat licensing, regulatory fees, and maintenance.

The high costs of wild fishing are a large part of the reason why aquaculture has boomed over the past several years, despite the high costs to get a farm operational. Because the costs of scallop farming are so prohibitive, however, fishing is still a necessity. The only choice fisheries have is to pass the cost on to consumers.

4. There are different types of scallops.


Really, this explains the price difference in scallops from one region, restaurant, or store from another more than it explains why prices are so high, but it’s a fact that does factor into a lot of the cost of scallops.

There are hundreds of different species of scallops (similar to clam), but in America the two most common types of scallops are bay scallops and sea scallops.

Because they tend to live in shallower water, bay scallops are usually the cheaper of the two (the shallow water making them easier to harvest). If you live in a region where only sea scallops are available, however, you may be shocked by the difference in price, especially if you are used to paying for bay scallops.

Rarer types of scallops such as Patagonian, Calico, and Alaskan are much more expensive because they are harder to find. If you are unaware of the difference, there is the potential for price shock.

5. Scallops spoil quickly.

Once they have been pulled out of the water, scallops will almost immediately start going bad. In areas next to scallop beds, this isn’t such a big consideration; scallops can be transported from fishing boats to a restaurant or seafood market within a day or two.

Inland locations, however, have to pay the high costs of fast transportation. In some cases, this is a food that has to be transported by plane.

Once the scallops have arrived at a restaurant or store, however, they must be sold quickly. If a chef or store owner overestimates the demand for scallops, they’ll be stuck with stock of unsellable seafood.

Because they don’t want to lose money, many seafood restaurants and stores will only buy small amounts everyday or every other day. They don’t get the bulk discounts that they can get with fish or crab that can be frozen, and they have to pay daily delivery fees every time they restock.


During the initial lockdown period of 2020, many commercial fishing boats did not run. This was for several reasons. Boats are not a great place for social distancing, and with restaurants closed there weren’t a lot of places to sell what they caught anyway.

Even selling their catch required interactions with people, and with many major seafood markets closed, those boats that did run often ran into difficulties selling their catch before it went bad. As a result, many boats chose to stay in port, and the people they employed were forced to look for other jobs.

Even after the harshest lockdown restrictions ended, fishing boats only slowly came back to being operational. It took months for some restaurants to resume buying the quantities of scallops that they used to buy, and there were hundreds of restaurants (ie. paying customers) that still have not resumed their old buying habits.

While seafood markets tried to make up for this shortfall, the truth is that many people prefer to eat seafood when a professional chef makes it rather than try to cook an unfamiliar fish on their own (sort of like conch meat or caviar).

Without a place to sell their catch, many fishing boats did not operate at full capacity. Their employees were not able to make the money that they were used to making, and many of them looked for other jobs. To attract them back to the field, many boats had to raise wages.

Over the next two years, fishing boats and their customers tried to match supply and demand, but often failed to predict consumer appetites accurately.

Many restaurants, seafood shops, and fishing boats are now trying to make up for the money they lost over the past two years while contending with a market that is vastly different from the one they became accustomed to over the past several years.

Next Steps

Scallops may be expensive, but there are some strategies to get the most out of your purchase.

  • Try an online retailer where you can compare prices and order in bulk
  • Plan meals where scallops are a side to a cheaper entree like pollock, trout, or sea bass and use a steamer to get the most out of them
  • Order scallops as an appetizer at your favorite seafood restaurant
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