Handling and Collecting Mussels

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

If you do 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).

If you are interested in collecting shells, be aware that no state allows the collection of protected species without a permit. Each individual state has their own set of guidelines to classify the status of mussels. The Federal Government also has rules about the collection of threatened species. Identification of mussels can be very tricky. In some cases, the only way an animal can be identified is by examining the soft parts of a living mussel making it very difficult to know if you've found a very rare animal or a common one. So, though the shells may capture your imagination and your admiration, it is probably best to examine the shells where you find them and then leave them in their natural setting.

The rules below are only for species that are not listed as protected within their respective locations. No protected species of any kind, anywhere, can be taken without a special permit. Rules change, so be sure to check with your local agencies before collecting mussels. What is presented here is just a small part of the rules for Minnesota, Wisconsin and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. As of June, 2012:

In Minnesota, it is illegal to possess any live mussels. Licensed anglers and children under 16 may take or 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. (www.dnr.wi.gov)

Within the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway which includes the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers, rules made by the National Park Service govern collection of mussel shells. In this National Scenic Riverway, no live mussels or empty shells can be taken regardless of their home state protection status.


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

Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service

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