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A group of about a dozen small triangular shellfish in shallow water.
Information icon Yellow lance in the Tar River in North Carolina. Photo by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds yellow lance mussel warrants Endangered Species Act protection

A freshwater mussel native to waters from Maryland to North Carolina along the Atlantic seaboard is declining. Recent surveys showed the yellow lance mussel has lost 57 percent of its historical range. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing that it be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

A map showing river basins historically occupied by yellow lance in MD, VA, and NC.
Yellow lance historical range. Map by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

Today’s warranted finding and listing proposal are the result of a review conducted by a Species Status Assessment team composed of experts from state and federal government agencies and academic institutions. The assessment included a comprehensive review of scientific information as well as an evaluation of current population status and projected trends in population levels based on threats to the yellow lance. The ESA defines threatened species as those that are likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the foreseeable future. The yellow lance meets the definition of a threatened species.

Conserving and restoring freshwater mussel populations is important and benefits wildlife and people who live, work and recreate in areas near mussel habitats. Mussels filter and purify water, decrease downstream transport of nitrogen by storing nutrients in their tissue, and their shells provide habitat for other organisms. Mussels were once a food for Native Americans, and now many animals including otters and raccoons rely on them for food.

The yellow lance mussel exists in the Patuxent, Rappahannock, York, James, Chowan, Tar, and Neuse River basins in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. It is also native to the Potomac River, but hasn’t been reported in recent years.

A map showing yellow lance occurrence data along rivers in MD, VA, and NC.
Yellow lance current range. Map by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

The yellow lance faces threats from water pollution coming directly from sites such as sewage treatment plants and solid waste disposal sites, or from runoff caused by road drainage, private wastewater discharges, or other sources; erosion; or dams which affect both upstream and downstream mussel populations by disrupting natural flow patterns, scouring river bottoms, changing water temperatures, and fragmenting habitat.

If the yellow lance mussel is listed as threatened, the Service will develop a recovery plan and pursue cooperative conservation initiatives designed to reverse population decline and improve habitat conditions. The Service and state wildlife agencies are working with numerous partners to meet both species and habitat needs in aquatic systems from Maryland to North Carolina. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is bolstering existing populations of yellow lance mussels in the wild. Also, a group of federal and state entities and non-profit conservation groups who make up the Upper Tar Collaboration is planning landscape scale conservation to benefit the yellow lance in the Upper Tar Watershed in North Carolina.

The Service will publish its proposal to list the yellow lance as threatened in the Federal Register tomorrow, beginning a 60-day comment period in which the public is invited to submit scientific or technical information that will aid the agency in reaching its final decision. The proposed rule may be viewed today in the Federal Register Reading Room and will officially publish on April 5, 2017. Public comments on this proposal can be made until June 5, 2017.

All documents and supporting information for the proposed rule can be found at In the search box enter Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2017-0017 and click the “Search” button. Written comments also may be mailed or hand-delivered to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2017–0017, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by May 22, 2017, to the above address. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.

For more information download the frequently asked questions for this proposal or visit the yellow lance species profile.


Lilibeth Serrano, North Carolina 252-933-2255,

Meagan Racey, Maryland and Virginia 413-523-8558

Phil Kloer, Georgia 404-679-7299,

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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