AUSTIN, Minn. – A years-long effort to bring black sandshell mussels back to the Cedar River concluded Thursday.
A crew from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources placed nearly 1,500 mussels at three locations along the Cedar River State Water Trail in Mower County. The mussels had been growing in cages since May 2017 in Austin’s East Side Lake. The crew’s first site was near the DNR canoe-kayak access behind Austin’s Marcusen Park baseball stadium. The other two were south of the city in Austin and Lyle townships.
Those locations were chosen to enable the mussels to spread down nearly 21 miles of the Cedar River to the dam in Otranto, Iowa.
“We have been very pleased with the black sandshell mussels’ growth through this project and are optimistic that they will thrive in the Cedar River and its tributaries, providing numerous benefits,” says DNR biologist Madline Pletta.
The MnDNR says Austin was known in the 1890s and early 1900s as “Pearl City” for its abundance of freshwater mussels, before overharvesting for buttons and jewelry as well as searching for the rare pearls found in some. Austin even once had a button-making factory connected to the local mussel population.
Pletta says reintroducing these mussels into historically occupied habitats from which they were removed or destroyed is a logical step toward improving their status in Minnesota as well as in Iowa. The MnDNR says freshwater mussels are important components of aquatic ecosystems by providing critical ecological services, such as providing structural habitat for other aquatic invertebrates, and food for fish, birds and mammals. Mussels also filter out suspended particles in water, including E. coli bacteria, and are considered “ecosystem engineers” because freshwater mussels modify aquatic habitat to make it more suitable for themselves and other organisms. They are sensitive particularly to habitat disturbance and pollution, making them excellent biological indicators of a river’s health.
Madeline Pletta (center) with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources works with helpers on reintroducing black sandshell mussels Thursday (July 18) in the Cedar River State Water Trail near Austin's Marcusen Park baseball stadium, one of three sites where the DNR transplanted mussels in the Cedar River in Mower County. (Photos courtesy of the MnDNR)