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Virginia Tech Fisheries Professor Works To Conserve Mussels

Blacksburg, Va., Dec. 17, 1998 -- Mussels are the longest lived freshwater invertebrates and they have been filtering rivers for millennia. Besides serving as a natural biological filter, they are a food for fish and wildlife, an indicator for water quality, and a raw material for the pearl industry. They are also the most endangered family of animals in the nation. Richard Neves, a fisheries professor at Virginia Tech, studies ways to conserve mussels around the world.

Earlier this year Neves completed a three part series for Pearl World Magazine on mussel conservation efforts. What do mussels have to do with pearls? The beads implanted in all pearl oysters come from mussel shells in the U.S. Ninety-five percent of the weight of the cultured pearl is from this bead. In fact, the commercial harvest of mussels has a great impact on the economy of the United States. The United States exports $50 million in shells to Japan and buys $1 billion worth of pearls from that country.

Nearly 70 mussel species are currently endangered. According to Neves, mussel conservation involves the practices of relocation, propagation, and reintroduction. Mussels are reproduced in the laboratory and then released by divers into the water. Because these practices are still being refined, he continues to research, study, and evaluate methodology. An introduction site must be evaluated for about five years before evidence of reproductive success can be determined.

Neves has been reproducing species from the Clinch and Powell rivers in Virginia and Tennessee at Virginia Tech's recirculating aquaculture facility in a five-year project dealing with propagation and reintroduction. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Virginia Tech have released more than 35,000 endangered young animals called "juveniles" so far. They were released in the Clinch and Powell rivers in Tennessee bec
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Contact: Richard Neves
mussel@vt.edu
540-231-5927
Virginia Tech
17-Dec-1998


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