Chairperson: Don Hubbs, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Freshwater mussels, collectively called shellfish, clams, bivalves and unionids, belong to an important group of animals known as molluscs. Mussels occur in a wide variety of aquatic habitats, from small ponds, streams to large lakes and rivers. They provide many natural benefits. Because they are filter feeders, these bivalves rely on water currents to supply nutrients for growth and reproduction. Functioning as natural biological filters, they actually clean our lakes, rivers and streams. Mussels serve as indicators of water quality. All are affected by pollution, although some are more tolerant than others, so they can be used to monitor levels of water borne pollutants. They efficiently remove silt and suspended organic particles and serve as a basis for studying environmental change over time. Mussels themselves serve as food for other animals such as fish, muskrats, raccoons, otters and birds. Their complex life history makes them valuable for research, and they may have many other uses as yet undiscovered.
MICRA formed a Freshwater Mussel Committee under the leadership of Al Buchanan, Missouri Department of Conservation in 1996. Under Buchanan’s leadership organizational meetings were held reaching out to freshwater mussel experts, enthusiasts, and consumptive users nationwide. The first order of business of MICRA’s Freshwater Mussel Committee was to initiate discussions related to development of a Strategic Action Plan for the conservation and management of freshwater mussels within the Mississippi River Basin.
These discussions and meetings made it evident that a broader, nationwide approach was needed. As a result, MICRA’s Freshwater Mussel Committee provided the stimulus for formation of the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society in 1998. Later that year the Society published it’s “National Strategy for the Conservation of Native Freshwater Mussels” in the Journal of Shellfish Research, 1(5):1419-1428. MICRA members participated in the development of this “National Strategy”, and it now serves as a guide for MICRA’s own regional management of freshwater mussels.
In 1998 MICRA’s Freshwater Mussel Committee was renamed the Native Mussel Committee, and it now not only serves the needs of MICRA, but also serves as an ad hoc regional advisory group to the larger Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society. MICRA’s most recent focus has been on standardizing state regulations related to the commercial harvest of freshwater mussels. The Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society’s Web Page can be found at: http://molluskconservation.org.