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For Immediate Release, October 3, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Tennessee River Mussels, 1,400 River Miles Proposed for Federal Protection in
Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for two species of freshwater mussels in the Tennessee River watershed, including the proposed designation of 1,380 river miles of critical habitat in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia. The decisions to protect the slabside pearlymussel and fluted kidneyshell are a result of a 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity requiring the agency to speed protection decisions for 757 species around the country.

“The Southeast’s rivers are home to more kinds of mussels than anywhere on the planet, but water pollution and dams have already caused the extinction of dozens of these species,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center. “The good news is, protecting our freshwater mussels will help save the rivers we use for drinking, fishing and recreation.”

The slabside pearlymussel was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1984. The fluted kidneyshell has been waiting for federal protection since 1999.

The slabside pearlymussel was once found in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia; it has been lost from Kentucky and survives in no more than 11 streams in the Tennessee River watershed in the other four states. It is no longer found in nearly 70 percent of its native streams: All remaining populations are in decline and several are on the verge of being lost.

The fluted kidneyshell was once found in the Cumberland and Tennessee river watersheds in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. It has been extirpated from Alabama and now occurs in only 12 of 37 of the streams where it was once found.

Both mussels are threatened by dams, gravel mining, urban and agricultural runoff and pollution from coal mining and processing. Native freshwater mussels are indicators of high water quality because they require clean, free-flowing rivers to survive and reproduce.

“Saving these mussels will take a shoulder-to-the-wheel effort,” said Curry. “But with the Endangered Species Act being 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of  species under its care, we’re hopeful these Tennessee River natives won’t be erased.”

The slabside pearlymussel is 4 inches long with a shiny, greenish-yellow, triangular shell that is white on the inside. The fluted kidneyshell is 5 inches long and has a yellowish-brown oval shell with wide green rays. The inside of the shell is bluish-white with a streak of salmon pink.

Mussels contribute to water quality by filtering small particles from the water when they eat. They reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish; when larger fish attempt to prey upon the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop as parasites on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own. In dirty water, the fish cannot see the mussel’s lure, so the mussel cannot reproduce.

Once widely used to make buttons and jewelry, mussel shells, like trees, accumulate growth rings that can be used to determine their age. Freshwater mussels can live for centuries, making them among the longest-lived invertebrates.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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