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The Clamor Over Clams

Clam Industry Demand


Demand for mussel shells for the cultured pearl industry and elsewhere has increased the harvest in some states to a point where clam populations are in jeopardy. Raw clam shells can go for as much as $3 per pound, thereby making it easy to make a lot of money in a relatively short time. Any time a lot of money can be made quickly at the expense of a natural resource there are reasons to be concerned.

The large clam beds of the South have been harvested for decades and in some places for more than 200 years. While some species of clams still exist in commercially harvestable numbers, other species have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Prior to 1936, 100 species of clams existed in the Tennessee River. Since that time, extensive commercial harvest, siltation, and the construction of the Tennessee Valley Authority dams has occurred and now there are only 44 species remaining. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies more than 100 different species of clams as endangered, threatened, or of special concern.

The concern over the expanding exploitation of freshwater mussel resources has risen to a point where some states have either reduced the allowable harvest of clams, or in many cases, stopped the taking of clams altogether. After the traditional mussel harvesting states began their conservation efforts, pressure to take mussels spread north and west to nontraditional areas.


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