10:17am

Tue December 6, 2011
Environmental Watchdog

At-Risk Mussels Prompt State Protection

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has assigned a special designation to a four-mile stretch of the Ohio River in Western Kentucky because scientists have found an endangered mussel species in the area. The mussel’s scientific name is Potamilus capax, but it’s commonly referred to as the “fat pocketbook” mussel because it resembles, well, a mussel-shaped purse.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Biologist Monte McGregor says at one point, the mussels were in about six states near offshoots of the Mississippi River. Now, it’s listed on the federal endangered species list and has been reduced to a few areas in Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky.

“They probably were all throughout the Ohio River in the past but just haven’t been found in recent years because it’s kind of hard to sample, it’s deep water,” he said. “Plus, we may not have been looking for them in the right exact locations. So I think now that we know where they’re at in the past 8 or 10 years, we’re just able to find more of them.”

Now, the four-mile stretch of the Ohio River in Union County where the mussel was found has been designated an Outstanding State Resource Water by the state. That means any industry in the area will have to prove their actions won’t harm the mussels. There are also more stringent pollution requirements for the area.

McGregor says industry often looks at these designations as ways to slow human progress.

“But that’s not the goal of it,” he said. “The goal is to protect our own selves by protecting these animals and I think we’re really a lot better off. One of the number one problems is water pollution and stuff like that is really something that’s coming back and biting us.”

In a river, mussels act as filters. They consume bacteria and clean the water, and are a good barometer of the river’s general health.