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Great Scallop – Species Overview

Pecten maximus

Market Name: Great Scallop
Scientific Name: Pecten maximus
Common Names: Giant scallop, Great Atlantic scallop, King scallop, St. James Shell, escallop.
French Name: Grand pétoncle
German Name: Tolle jakobsmuschel
Italian Name: Grande capesante
Japanese Name: Hotate
Spanish Name: Gran vieira
Sustainability: Ocean Wise Seafood (change link to match species)

Overview (from Wiki)

Pecten maximus, common names the great scallop, king scallop, St James shell or escallop, is a northeast Atlantic species of scallop, an edible saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusc in the family Pectinidae. This is the type species of the genus.

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The shell of Pecten maximus is quite robust and is characterised by having “ears” of equal size on either side of the apex. The right, or lower, valve is convex and slightly overlaps the flat left, or upper, valve, which is flat. Larger specimens have a nearly circular outline and the largest may measure 21 cm in length. The “ears” are prominent and are a minimum of half the width of the shell with the byssal notch situated in the right anterior ear being slight and not serrated. The sculpture of the valves is distinctive and consists of 12 to 17 wide radiating ribs and numerous concentric lines which clearly show the scallop’s growth history, while the “ears” show a few thin ribs which radiate from the beaks. The radiating ribs reach the margins of the valves and this creates a crenulated form. The left valve is normally reddish-brown while the right valve varies from white through cream to shades of pale brown contrasting with pink, red or pale yellow tints; either valve may show zigzag patterns and may also show bands and spots of red, pink or bright yellow.

The colour of the body of Pecten maximus is pink or red with the mantle marbled brown and white. When young they are attached to the substrate by a byssus but mature animals are capable of swimming by the opening and rapid closing of the valves. The adductor muscle which is used to close and open the valves is very large and powerful. The foot is a finger-like organ, which spins the byssal threads, which pass through the byssal notch on the ears. The margin of the mantle has two layers the inner layer is finely fringed while the outer is lined with long tentacles with two series totalling 30–36 dark blue or green simple eyes or ocelli in two rows at their base.

Where They Live

Pecten maximus occurs in the eastern Atlantic along the European coast from northern Norway, south to the Iberian peninsula, it has also been reported off West Africa, off the Macaronesian Islands. In Great Britain and Ireland it is distributed all round the coast but it is uncommon and localised on the eastern North Sea coast. It prefers offshore waters down to 100 metres (330 feet; 55 fathoms) depth.


In 1999 the total catch reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation was 35,411 tonnes with the two biggest catches being reported from the United Kingdom and France which landed 19,108 tonnes and 12,745 tonnes respectively. It is believed that some natural stocks are showing indications of over exploitation resulting in strict enforcement of fisheries legislation and by the development of stock enhancement practices. Great scallops are fished for using Newhaven scallop dredges, and less than 5% is gathered by hand by divers. In total the scallop fisheries for P. maximus and for the Queen scallop Aequipecten opercularis are one of the top five fisheries by value in United Kingdom waters. However, the use of towed great to harvest scallops causes damage to the wider ecosystem.

Pecten maximus can be cultivated in aquaculture and this is reasonably advanced in France and Norway. Spain, France, Ireland, United Kingdom and Norway have been involved in the aquaculture of scallops; production peaked in 1998 when 512 tonnes were landed but production later recessed, with only 213 tonnes landed in 2004, having an estimated value of €852 000, equivalent to €4 per kilogramme.

Pecten maximus has been found to contain domoic acid, a toxin that can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. The risk associated with scallop consumption is regarded as a significant threat to both public health and the shellfish industry.

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