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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 lists the yellow lance mussel as threatened under the Endangered Species Act

Conservation efforts will improve water quality for the mussel, other wildlife, local communities

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the yellow lance mussel will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) following a rigorous evaluation of the best available science. Partnerships with state wildlife agencies and others have already been established to work toward improving habitat conditions for the mussel, which is one of nature’s most diligent water filterers.

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

The Service anticipates it will propose a special rule under the ESA’s Section 4(d) as well as propose the designation of critical habitat for the yellow lance later this year. For threatened fish and wildlife, the Service may use the flexibility provided under Section 4(d) to tailor the protections of the ESA to what it determines necessary and advisable for the conservation of the mussel and wildlife like it. This targeted approach can reduce regulatory burdens by allowing some activities that do not significantly harm the species to continue, while focusing our efforts on the threats that slow the species’ recovery.

The decline of the yellow lance signals water quality issues that have impacts beyond this one species, including effects on the surrounding communities in the mussel’s native range. Conservation partnerships with states and other groups to improve the status of the yellow lance will also help deliver clean water to these communities, benefitting recreational activities such as fishing, the local economy and quality of life.

The mussel’s colorful name comes from its two bright yellow hinged and elongated shells. 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 has not been reported there in recent years.

Sediment, pesticides and municipal and industrial waste flowing into these rivers have degraded the water that the yellow lance needs to survive. Dams, road crossings, droughts and fragmented streams disconnect yellow lance populations.

The Service and state fish and wildlife agencies are working with partners to meet the needs of the mussel and its habitat from Maryland to North Carolina. In 2014, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission staff and partners began a concerted effort to increase wild populations in the Tar and Neuse River basins. In July 2015, 270 yellow lances were stocked into Sandy Creek, a tributary of the Tar River. Annual monitoring to evaluate growth and survival is planned, and additional propagation and stocking efforts will continue in upcoming years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is working with agricultural producers to install buffers along key streams where the last yellow lance mussels remain. These efforts will not only help protect and recover the yellow lance and other imperiled wildlife that share its habitat, they will ensure cleaner water for local citizens.

The yellow lance mussel’s listing will become effective on May 3, 2018, 30 days after publication of this final determination in the Federal Register. Public comments and information received over the last year, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this final decision are available online at To access this information, go to the search box and enter this docket number: FWS– R4–ES–2017–0017.

Additional information


Elsie Davis; 404-679-7107, - Southeast
Lilibeth Serrano; 252-933-2255, – N.C.
Meagan Racey; 413-658-4386, - Northeast

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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