Mercury Risk: Low
With its triangular shape and swollen red foot, hokkigai is one of the most easily identifiable options at the sushi bar, alongside more popular fish options. Known both as the arctic surf clam and Stimpson’s surf clam, hokkigai is a long-lived burrowing bivalve usually caught in the waters off Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland.
Surf clams don’t reach sexual maturity until five to eight years of age and can live for many decades in their natural habitat. Although they have been heavily targeted by Canadian clammers, there is very little information on the strength of surf clam stocks. This is a concern, but the larger issue is the way these clams are harvested.
Surf clams are caught using a hydraulic dredge—a portable high-powered vacuum that literally tears the ocean floor apart in search of its quarry. Any number of cohabiting species, such as groundfish, other invertebrates, or aquatic plants, can be severely impacted by dredging. At best they are forced to relocate, but many creatures are injured or killed in the process.
In some sushi bars, particularly on the East Coast of the United States, it may be possible to find local Atlantic surf clams as hokkigai. While this is extremely rare, it is likely a better option than Canadian product as more is known about the sustainability of the domestic fishery. Still, these clams are hydraulically dredged in a manner similar to their arctic relatives to the north, which is far from an optimal collection process.
There are better options than hokkigai at the sushi bar. Farmed abalone, scallops, and geoduck are all delicious and taken in a manner far less destructive to their environments.
Casson Trenor is a frequent commentator on sustainable seafood issues. He has been featured in regional, national, and international media outlets, including CNN, NPR, Forbes, New York Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times.