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‘Exciting milestone’: Hatchery mussels reintroduced in San Antonio River

May 24, 2024  By Hatchery International staff

Austin Davis, Senior Aquatic Biologist with the San Antonio River Authority, releases a freshwater mussel raised by Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery into the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River just south of downtown San Antonio. (Photo: Aubry Buzek/USFWS)

For the first time, hatchery-produced freshwater mussels have been reintroduced into the wild in Texas, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The San Antonio River Authority and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the mussels raised by Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery into the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River just south of downtown San Antonio. 

“As stewards of the San Antonio River Basin, the River Authority recognizes the importance of conserving and restoring freshwater mussel populations for the benefit of both our environment and our communities,” said Jim Campbell, San Antonio River Authority board chairman. “Through collaboration with national organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we are able to pioneer scientific research and conservation efforts that will help safeguard the natural heritage of our region.”

The yellow sandshell mussels were grown at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Burnet, Texas, which aims to improve recreational fishing and restore aquatic species that are in decline, at risk, and important to the health of our aquatic systems. The freshwater mussel propagation program at Inks Dam represents a relatively new facet of this mission and has evolved rapidly since its initiation in 2017.


“This is an exciting milestone that’s been a few years in the making,” said Amy Lueders, the service’s southwest regional director. “Freshwater mussels are really challenging to propagate. They take a lot of work and innovation, and certainly there was a lot of innovation and persistence from both the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery and the biologists at the San Antonio River Authority. We look forward to learning a lot and building on this success.”

Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery hopes to transfer juveniles of three more contract mussel species, including pistolgrip, pimpleback, and threeridge, to the San Antonio River Authority for reintroduction to the Mission Reach. Propagated juvenile pistolgrip growing at Inks Dam could be ready for reintroduction to the San Antonio River this summer.  

Freshwater mussels help maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems because they are one of nature’s greatest natural filtration systems. They also help stabilize the banks of rivers during high-flow events. Austin Davis, senior aquatic biologist with the San Antonio River Authority said they burrow into the substrate, filter and can clean the water. “That’s why we’re happy to have them here. It’s a good sign of high-quality habitat and high-quality water here in the Mission Reach,” Davis said.

Bexar County’s native mussel populations are vulnerable to habitat loss and their numbers have declined over the years. To restore their habitat, the River Authority’s engineers and scientists have been implementing targeted water quality enhancement efforts in area waterways.

Because of these efforts, the River Authority said the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River is in a state that can support healthy freshwater mussel populations. Beginning in July, the team will be releasing another 5,000 freshwater mussels in what they call “a significant milestone in the River Authority’s mission to preserve and enhance the San Antonio River Basin for generations to come.”

Other organizations involved with the historic release include Utah State University, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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