Promoting Freshwater Mussels in Nebraska

You might not realize it, but there are freshwater mussels that are native to Nebraska rivers and streams.

Joe Cassidy at the Grove Trout Rearing Station says this is the 4th year that he's been involved with strengthening the population of freshwater mussels in Nebraska. One species that he's been working with is the "plain pocketbook". "I got them out of the Elkhorn River by Stuart and O'Neill Nebraska which is the last known living population of the plain pocketbooks in Nebraska prior to us stocking them," Cassidy said.

Game and Parks officials are now stocking plain pocketbook mussels and other varieties in northeast Nebraska and southeast Nebraska rivers and streams where they were once native. "At one time there were some 30 species that were native to Nebraska and right now.. most of them are not threatened but are species of concern," Cassidy said. "We are happy with the progress. We've got some "fat muckets" which we have not had live in Nebraska for 30 to 40 years that we are going to stock for the first time, too."

Cassidy says they've based some research on surveys from the late 1800's that indicate where native populations of mussels should be. He says rivers in southeast Nebraska like the Big Blue and the Nemaha are native homes for the mussels, along with the Elkhorn river. "I'm lucky enough to be the guy that goes out in the field and finds new locations or try to find the ones we've already stocked. We have pit tags on them. We can detect them and check their growth, survival, and maturity, and just see how the program is progressing," Cassidy said.

Officials say this project is important, simply because the mussels are native. It's possible an environmental change over the years may have altered their ability to survive. The effort now is to make sure they can survive again. "They are filtering water 24 hours a day, so if there is any pollutant that is going to kill something in the water, they will be the first ones to find it. They are kind of the canary in the mine, they are going to tell you if there is some kind of problem. So, if it was one catastrophic event, maybe we can bypass it, and we are doing better with land practices now and water quality is better. We have some habitat we've lost, but maybe we are doing better on that. It's a grass roots project. It's only the fourth year, but I think we are making progress. Every year we find out something new," Cassidy said.