After more than 50 years of going missing in its home river, the endangered James Spinymussel is being returned to the James River thanks to efforts by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and other partners. Pollution and other factors led to the disappearance of the James Spinymussel, one of about 80 species of freshwater mussels in Virginia, in the main stem of the James River. Fortunately, the James Spinymussel survived in headwater streams that feed the James.
Improving water quality in the main stem of the James led mussel experts to reintroduce 1,300 James Spinymussels into the river this August at Scottsville. The experts donned wetsuits and snorkel masks, carefully placing the endangered mussels on the river’s bottom. A second Spinymussel planting is expected to occur in the James River this fall. The planted mussels were propagated and raised at Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery east of Richmond.
The planted mussels are marked with tags, and researchers will monitor the mussels for survival and reproduction in the hopes that they reestablish the historic population.
Virginia’s many species of freshwater mussels are a crucial part of healthy rivers and streams. A single mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day, which can prevent pollutants such as nitrogen from flowing downstream, leading to clearer and cleaner water. Mussel beds create habitat for small aquatic creatures, which in turn become food for fish.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Virginia Senior Scientist Joseph Wood issued the following statement.
“The reintroduction of the James Spinymussel marks the culmination of significant efforts to bring back this native Virginia species. This is a promising sign for the improving health of the James River. Congratulations to DWR and USFS on this inspiring achievement. Great things happen when Virginia invests in mussel restoration.
“But even as Virginia’s freshwater mussel populations plummet, mussel restoration efforts remain underfunded. The growing enthusiasm for freshwater mussels in Virginia will hopefully lead to commitment, leadership, and investment in these amazing mollusks. For mussels to thrive, we must also continue to support programs that reduce pollution from agriculture, stormwater runoff, and sewage treatment plants.”