STATEWIDE — The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and James River Association (JRA) announced that they are moving forward with mussel restoration projects thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s new Chesapeake WILD program.
In July 2021, it was reported by the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program that the Freshwater mussels’ population has been declining. The report called for expanding Mussel restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“Momentum is growing in Virginia to bring back these amazing freshwater mussels, but we hear time and again that we need a plan to focus these efforts,” said CBF Virginia Senior Scientist Joe Wood, Ph.D. “Freshwater mussels are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s natural heritage. These projects will set the stage for more freshwater mussels, cleaner water in fishing spots along our headwater streams, and a healthier Chesapeake Bay.”
JRA stated that the efforts between its organization and CBF would lay the groundwork for additional mussel restoration across the region through the development of maps, plans, and identifying the next steps.
According to JRA’s announcement of the new projects, there are about 23 species of mussels living in Virginia freshwater rivers and streams that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, including from the James River. Those mussels are threatened by pollution, dams, climate change, viruses, and loss of habitat. According to JRA, mussel populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are estimated to have fallen by 90% since European colonists arrived in the 1600s.
While there have been efforts by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to raise and plant freshwater mussels in rivers and streams, mussel restoration in Virginia has remained limited by funding and a comprehensive plan.
According to JRA, under the grant, CBF is launching the project “Establishing a Plan for Freshwater Mussels: Protect, Restore, and Engage.” With the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and DWR, CBF will create an interactive map of Virginia highlighting stretches of streams and rivers with critical freshwater mussel habitat to guide future restoration and conservation efforts.
The project will also raise awareness about the diversity of mussels in Virginia by collaborating with the Smithsonian Institution and Florida Museum of Natural History to create realistic 3D-printed models of mussel shells representing all the species in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. JRA states that the scans for the 3D printed models will be open-source and available to everyone, and that a set of the mussel models will be used in CBF’s environmental education programs.
Mussels contribute to the cleanliness of the water. JRA states that a single mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day.
For the past three years, JRA said it has partnered with DWR and USFWS Harrison Lake Fish Hatchery to plant more than 10,000 freshwater mussels in the James River and its tributaries, conducted population assessments and identified quality mussel habitat. Through the course of this work, JRA recognized the need for a proactive restoration plan to guide planting activities, identify areas for further surveys and investigation, and establish strategic restoration objectives for the James, it said.
The plan will assist state agencies, federal hatcheries, nonprofits, the state legislature, and other funding agencies in determining where additional projects and planning are needed.
“We are excited to receive one of the inaugural Chesapeake WILD grants,” said CBF Interim Federal Director Keisha Sedlacek in JRA’s announcement of the projects. “Healthy fish and wildlife habitats are vital to a healthy Bay ecosystem, and projects like these that put boots on the ground restoring habitats across the watershed are vital to saving the Bay and tributaries like the James River. CBF urges Congress to fully fund Chesapeake WILD when lawmakers reconvene in November to finish work on this year’s budget.”