Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 8, 2023


Perrin de Jong, (828) 252-4646,

Struggling Freshwater Mussels Protected Under Endangered Species Act

Exceptions Threaten Habitat Protections for East Coast Mussels

LEXINGTON, Ky.— Responding to a petition and lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today listed the round hickorynut and longsolid freshwater mussels as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also set aside 2,136 river miles of critical habitat from Pennsylvania to Mississippi.

“North America’s freshwater mussels filter pollution out of our waterways and support aquatic life, but they’re being clobbered by the extinction crisis,” said Perrin de Jong, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ensuring these mussels survive and recover will mean people and wildlife have cleaner water and more resilient ecosystems.”

Today’s Fish and Wildlife Service action includes a rule that allows exceptions to the ban on intentional and incidental killing or harming the mussels for logging projects that follow state forestry “best management practices.”

“Relying on logging best management practices won’t protect imperiled mussels from extinction and habitat loss,” said de Jong. “Logging practices vary widely from state to state and the Service hasn’t defined who’s responsible for ensuring that loggers actually follow these rules when they log mussel habitat. These critters need real protection, not just words on a page.”

The Center and allies petitioned for protection of the mussels in 2010 and filed a lawsuit in 2019 to enforce a deadline for a decision on their protection.

The once common longsolid has lost 63% of its populations, and only three out of 60 surviving populations are considered to have a high chance of survival. The round hickorynut has lost 78% of its populations, and only four of 65 current populations are ranked as having high resiliency.

Mussels improve water quality by filtering small particles from the water as they eat and breathe. They reproduce by making lures that looks like fish, crayfish or worms. When their host fishes attempt to prey upon the lures, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own and start cleaning the water that fish need to survive.

Species Background

The longsolid is a 5-inch long mussel with a light brown shell with darker brown stripes and a pronounced ridge. It lives in the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee river basins in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The round hickorynut is a 2.5-inch nearly perfectly round mussel with a greenish-olive shell with a yellow band. It lives in the Great Lakes and in the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and Lower Mississippi river basins in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The mussels are threatened by water pollution from urbanization, agricultural, oil and gas drilling and pipelines, coal mining and coal-fired power plants, and by increasing stream temperatures and storm events caused by global climate change. The listing proposal states that threats to the species are expected to worsen.

The southeastern United States is the world center of freshwater mussel diversity, but the region has already lost 23 species to extinction. Nearly 70% of mussels are at risk of extinction due to historical collection to make buttons, dams and ongoing water pollution.

Round hickorynut mussel. Credit: USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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