Partnering for Mussel Restoration

Freshwater mussels and shad were once plentiful in the Delaware Estuary and its tributaries, providing a range of natural benefits to people and waterways. Today they face an uncertain future in local streams and rivers, creating a serious disadvantage when it comes to ecological health.

Now, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences of Drexel University, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Philadelphia Water Department and Department of Parks and Recreation, Bartram’s Garden, and the Independence Seaport Museum have come together to develop the Aquatic Research and Restoration Center to coordinate large-scale restoration efforts that do not currently exist in the Philadelphia region.

The coalition will focus its efforts on continued development of programs with positive conservation impact, most notably the cultivation of freshwater mussels and shad, as part of an ecosystem restoration effort across the Delaware Estuary and its tributaries.

Danielle Kreeger, PhD, science director for Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, and Academy Section Leader Roger Thomas transplant juvenile freshwater mussels into the Schuylkill River. The mussels were reared at The Mussel Hatchery at Fairmount Water Works.

“This is an important step in potentially developing a wide range of research and educational opportunities throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, particularly those that involve the use of freshwater mussels,” Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper said at the May 1 event where the parties signed a memorandum of understanding.

The Academy has a rich history studying freshwater mussels dating back to its founding in 1812. Today the collection contains 160,000 specimens with more than 250 named species, including some that are now extinct or highly endangered.

“These specimens “are a priceless resource for researchers working in conservation, restoration ecology and the reconstruction of historic environmental conditions in streams and rivers,” Cooper said.

This video shows a female freshwater mussel ejecting packets of glochidia, or larvae, that attach to fish, mature and then drop off in local streams and ponds. Video by Roger Thomas/ANS.

Under the agreement, the coalition will:

  • Propagate and raise freshwater mussels for restoration to area streams for improving water quality, habitat, and biodiversity, and for use as native “indicators” for measuring stream health and pollution. One freshwater mussel filters and cleans up to 10-20 gallons of water each day.
  • Propagate and raise shad (and potentially, other fish species) for restoration to the Delaware River and area streams for improving habitat and biodiversity, as well as to provide recreational and economic opportunities.
  • Provide experiential learning and laboratory research for students—from elementary through post-graduate level—that could potentially lead to careers in the sciences and engineering for students in underserved communities.

For more information about the importance of mussels to local water bodies, visit our partner at Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

Also check out The Mussel Hatchery at Fairmount Waterworks.

By Carolyn Belardo




  1. Interested in mussels/ clams in Pennypack Creek, N. E. Phila.
    In 1960’s found many mussel shells along gravel-drifts of creek. Not many years later these were very rare, but began to find Asian clam shells, which I had never seen before.
    Through 1970’s these were common in creek E. of dam on creek at Roosevelt Blvd.
    then became common in creek upstream from there through 1980’s and on .
    Ironically, mussels fairly common while creek was badly polluted,( masses of soap-foam at dams!) Creek is much cleaner now, but mussels very rare. Also were MANY more fish, and of MANY species while creek water was of very poor quality…(why?)
    Mussel shells found, very “pearly” interior, shape like Margaritifera, but could be similar species ?
    Did the Asian clams displace mussels? Or did these merely fill vacancy due to
    disapearence of mussels?
    Was die-off of mussels due to pollution? If so, how to account for presence of
    mussels while creek was in very bad condition, and now that creek is clean
    eneough for trout-stocking…no, or very few mussels?
    What was host-fish for mussels?
    What would eat mussels?…Muskrats?…Raccoons?
    Do the Asian clams require a host-fish?
    What might eat Asian clams? Diving ducks?(Scaup,? Canvasbacks?)
    Would Asian clams from Pennypack Creek be edible? ( have seen Asian People
    gather them)
    Now my impression, based on smaller number of Asian clam-shells found on gravel-drifts, these may be decreasing in numbers also…
    Any comments will be welcome, as I write Nature articles for Friends of Pennypack Park newsletter, and most people are not aware of this aspect of our creek’s aquatic life. (We are a volunteer group, dedicated to caring for this park.).
    Wishing you success with your efforts,
    Roland Williams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *