Tests have confirmed success for a project by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to reintroduce a once abundant animal back into Iowa waterways. Biologist Roger Gordon of Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin has worked with the D-N-R to bring back the Higgins-Eye pearly mussel. Gordon says this species of mussel was once commonly found in Iowa rivers, but silt and other pollutants caused it to disappear.
He says the population has slowly died out over the whole range over the last 100 years, with just a few left on the Mississippi, Wisconsin and St. Croix rivers. Gordon says they’ve been gone from Iowa’s interior rivers for 60 to 80 years.
Gordon says the program involves introducing tiny mussel larva the size of a grain of sand into Iowa waterways. He says the larva are attached to fish and the fish are released in the Cedar, Wapsipinicon and Iowa rivers with the hope that as they grow and drop off fish they’ll be able to survive. Gordan says to find the three-inch mussel “is really quite amazing. It’s like a needle in a haystack, or a needle in a hayfield, lets say.”
Gordan says they found the small Higgins-Eye in the Upper Wapsipinicon River in northeast Iowa. He says to find one tells them that there are probably more out there that they haven’t found so, “it’s very significant.” Gordon says the find also gives hope that the mussel can reproduce on its own.
Gordon says the animal they found was a female, and he says they assume there’s a male in the area and he says the mussel could be producing larva next fall. Gordon says there are a lot of philosophical reasons for re-introducing the mussel — but he says there are also many practical reasons. He says this species is very sensitive to changes in the environment and he says they know if they can keep it alive, then the water is clean enough to support a lot of other things. The project to re-introduce the mussel began in 2001.