ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Freshwater mussels are key to keeping the Chesapeake Bay watershed clean, and with more than half of all species now facing extinction, a new report urged policymakers to target more efforts on restoring the important bivalves.

Joe Wood, Virginia senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the report’s co-author, said one mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water, and they are essential to the Bay ecosystem, like their oyster relatives.

About 25 species of mussels live in the freshwater rivers and streams that flow into Chesapeake Bay. (Flickr)

Unlike oysters though, he pointed out, mussels haven’t been given the same attention or funding for rehabilitation.

“We don’t have targets for freshwater mussel restoration that are associated with the Bay cleanup effort,” Wood remarked. “And it’s not to say that some of the stuff we’re doing is good for them, but they’re not even a part of the conversation at this point, and they should be.”

He explained mussels are sensitive and reproduce by latching onto traveling fish. Dams and other obstructions in rivers that keep fish from migrating are one reason mussel populations are declining.

Doug Myers, Maryland senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said there is hope for Maryland mussels, noting the Maryland Department of Natural Resources launched a mussel restoration project in the Patapsco River watershed, and it benefited from dam removal.

He reported another project on the horizon will bring a freshwater mussel hatchery to the lower Susquehanna River to reintroduce some species.

“There are a few species of freshwater mussels left in the lower Susquehanna River, and there are four dams there,” Myers emphasized. “So there’s going to have to be not only the reintroduction but probably some surveys to make sure that those host fish are there as well.”

The report found mussel populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have fallen by an estimated 90% since colonists arrived in the 1600s from pollution, dams, climate change, and disease. The decline has meant a serious loss of both mussel biodiversity and benefits in reducing pollution.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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