Indiana Mussel Relocation a Success
BY BRIAN BARTOS, CARTERVILLE FWCO
A bridge replacement project in Pennsylvania provided a unique opportunity for the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) to be involved in the relocation of two species of federally endangered mussels, the clubshell and northern riffleshell, to Indiana this past September. The Hunter Station Bridge on the Allegheny River had been slated to be replaced for over a year, and would have serious impacts on mussel survival at the project location. This prompted the decision to relocate mussels to other suitable locations in the Ohio River Basin. States that received mussels from this project include Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, Seneca Nation (located in NY), and Indiana.
The Carterville FWCO and the Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership (ORBFHP) working in conjunction with Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation, Indiana's Department of Natural Resources, Manchester University, and the Service's Bloomington, Indiana Ecological Services Field Office were able to secure 150 individuals each of northern riffleshell and clubshell mussels for translocation. This will be a pilot study for a larger relocation of 3,000-5,000 of each species in 2016-17. The streams chosen for relocation were the Tippecanoe and Eel rivers, both exceptional coolwater systems that currently support a host of mussel species and other aquatic organisms. The Eel River has been transformed in the past decade thanks to a comprehensive dam removal and habitat restoration effort by Manchester University and the ORBHFP, increasing chances of survival for the clubshell.
River. Credit: Brant Fisher, Indiana DNR
Eel River. Credit: Brant Fisher, Indiana DNR
The mussels were shipped overnight from Pennsylvania to Indiana, and each came fitted with a PIT tag on one valve and a small numbered tag on the other. They were placed for overnight holding in a cage with sand/gravel substrate, and were observed to be buried and actively filtering the next morning. After confirming viability, northern riffleshell were placed into the Tippecanoe River, and the clubshell into the Eel River. All individuals were observed to be active, many of them filtering within 10 minutes of placement. At the end of October, clubshell were still at the original placement site, and individuals were observed to be alive and in good shape. So far, the pilot project looks to be a success!
Next year, biologists and students will return to the rivers to search for tagged mussels with a PIT tag reader to evaluate success of this pilot effort. After survival is confirmed, the relocation effort with the large number of individuals will be made. In addition to the translocation of adult mussels, propagation techniques and host fish inoculation will also be conducted to provide additional northern riffleshell and clubshell for each of the augmentation and reintroduction sites. The hope is with the combination of habitat/passage improvements, coupled with relocation/propagation efforts, these two endangered species will be well on the road to recovery in their new home!