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The Clamor Over Clams


Allowing commercial harvest of any wildlife species is difficult. By law, the fish and wildlife resources of the state belong to all the people of North Dakota. The Game and Fish Department is charged with managing these resources for the benefit of the public. Is the commercial harvest of large quantities of clams in the public's best interest? Will such a harvest affect not only clam populations, but other species of wildlife that depend on clams for food? What is the value of clams as stabilizers of river bottoms? Is clamming a recreational pursuit or is it simply an opportunity for a select few to make significant amounts of money from a publicly-owned resource? Questions such as these will be considered as the Department continues to develop its position on the commercial clamming issue.

jpg -- Sorting Through Clams

Because of the freshwater mussel harvesting issue, we now know a lot more about a previously unrecognized natural resource. Perhaps more importantly, we recognized and corrected a flaw in the law which didn't properly consider all forms of wildlife.

The issue provided for good coffee break conversation, which surely included the comment "so what if they take out all the clams." With that thought in mind, we'll leave you to reflect on the following story by John Madson:

"There is a bivalve found in the Upper Missouri called the Higgin's eye pearly mussel. Its Sunday name is Lampsilis higginsi, and the primary host for its glocidia is the sauger pike. The Higgin's eye seems to prefer the somewhat deeper parts of big rivers in places of high turbulence and oxygen content, and it is apparently found nowhere in the world but in the drainage of the Mississippi River north of the mouth of the Missouri. Any species of naiad mussel that exists in only a single river system in this day and age is walking a biological tightrope, and the Higgin's eye is no exception. It is a recent inductee into the sad society of endangered species.

This was noted in our local newspaper not long ago, and a reader wrote the editor: 'So what if things like the snail darter, furbish lousewort, and Higgin's eye mussel vanish forever? They didn't do us any good when they were here; what possible difference can it make if they're gone?'

I've been wondering that myself. And if we can't figure out what something is good for, then why not let it slip away into oblivion? Who cares, indeed?

But then, what is modern man good for? Of all Earth's creatures he is wholly unique in not being good for anything. He is equally unique in being bad for almost everything. No other critter can make that claim. The sad truth is our lovely little planet can no longer afford us. We are Earth's only bad habit, one that started out harmless enough a few million years back but became a major vice.

Thinking of myself as a bad habit that's gotten out of hand isn't the sunniest of outlooks, nor is the realization that the Higgin's eye mussel contributes more to Earth than I do. The mussel helps stabilize the stream bed in which it lives; it filters and clarifies water that passes through it, straining out suspended materials and converting tiny organisms to tissue that can be used, in turn, by such higher forms as fish, otters, muskrats, waterfowl, and crawdads.

I can't do those things; I tear at the riverbeds, poison the food chain, and corrupt the waters that sustain me. All that is bad enough. But the real blow to my lordly pride is the knowledge that while a mussel can make a pearl, the best I can do is gallstones."

Randy Kreil is the Department's nongame biologist, and is a frequent contributor to North Dakota OUTDOORS.

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