Department of Environmental Studies
The mussels of Wisconsin’s rivers have been used as a commercial resource since the end of the 19th century. Wisconsin’s freshwater mussels were removed from rivers in huge numbers at the turn of the 20th century and again beginning in the 1960’s. Mussel shells have been the foundation for two distinct industries, in two destinct time periods: the pearl button era around the turn of the 20th century and the cultured pearl era of the last several decades. Human uses of rivers have also had a major impact on the abundance and numbers of species of mussels present in Wisconsin’s rivers. This paper examines the history of human use of mussels and efforts to conserve or protect the mussel populations or species. Physical changes to and pollution of rivers as well as harvest pressures led to changes and declines in mussel populations. Efforts to conserve or protect this resource began in the 1910’s and continue today. Laws regarding clamming became more restrictive as the technology of harvest methods changed and as an awareness of limits to the resource developed. Issues and strategies regarding management of mussel resources are discussed.