We finally got around to doing some research and were surprised by what we found...
We'd assumed that wet, dry, and diver had some vague relationship to the specific scallop variety, but it turns out that these terms actually refer to how the scallops (of any kind) have been handled and harvested. Here's the breakdown:
• Wet scallops are shucked on the boat directly into a container filled with cold water, which preserves the scallops for longer. The downside is that the scallops absorb water and plump up, giving them a less pure flavor and a tougher texture. These scallops also tend to be older by the time they get to the seller.
Often a preservative or chemical salt is added to the water to prevent the scallops from spoiling. If this is a concern for you, always ask the fishmonger how the scallops were packed before buying wet scallops.
• Dry scallops are also shucked on the boat, but they go into a dry container with no water or preservatives. Their flavor is more pure and concentrated. They have a shorter shelf-life, but this means that they're fresher when you buy them.
• Diver scallops refer to the method of harvesting. Instead of being dredged, these scallops are harvested by hand by actual divers. This is incredibly labor intensive, but far less damaging to the environment than dredging the ocean floor with nets.
As you can imagine, the price for scallops goes up depending on how carefully they've been handled. Wet scallops are the most affordable and diver scallops are about as pricey as they come. In fact, it's rare to find diver scallops outside of a restaurant menu.
And now we're hungry for scallops!
Related: Scallops with Lime and Cilantro