Handling and Collecting Mussels


Freshwater mussel anatomy:
Shell and interior "soft" parts (tissues and organs)

Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Don't Move a Mussel!

Try not to disturb living mussels. If you move one, replace it on the riverbed or lake bottom in the same place and position as you found it. That will give the animal a fighting chance for continued survival.

If you do happen to pick up a live mussel, observe the animal closely to find the hinge. The hinge should stay above the soil. The siphons allow the animal to breathe and are located along the long edge. The foot pulls the animal along the river bottom. Usually, a live mussel closes its shells tightly when it is disturbed, so you may not be able to see its siphons (usually above ground) or its foot (extended below ground).

No protected species of any kind, anywhere, can be taken without a special permit.

In Minnesota, it is illegal to possess any live mussels. Licensed may possess up to 24 whole shells or 48 shell halves from dead mussels of species that are not endangered or threatened.

In Wisconsin, it is no longer legal to harvest any live mussels from the waters of the state. Shells of dead mussels may be taken as long as they are not from a threatened or endangered mussel.

Within the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which includes the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers, live mussels or empty shells cannot be taken regardless of their home state protection status.

Identification of mussels can be very tricky. It can be very difficult to know if you've found a very rare animal or a common one. It is best to examine the shells where you find them and then leave them in their natural setting.

Did You Know?