A common objective when surveying freshwater mussels is to detect the presence of rare populations. In certain situations, such as when endangered or threatened species are potentially in the area of a proposed impact, the survey should be designed to ensure a high probability of detecting species presence. Linking survey design to probability of detecting species presence has been done for quantitative surveys, but commonly applied designs that are based on timed searches have not made that connection. I propose a semiquantitative survey design that links search area and search efficiency to probability of detecting species presence. The survey can be designed to protect against failing to detect populations above a threshold abundance (or density). I illustrate the design for surveys to detect clubshell (Pluerobema clava) and northern riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana) in the Allegheny River. Monte Carlo simulation indicated that the proposed survey design performs well under a range of spatial distributions and low densities (<0.05 m2) where search area is sufficient to ensure that the probability of detecting species presence is predicted to be ???0.85. ?? 2006 by The North American Benthological Society.