While the native freshwater mussel assemblages in the Clinch and Powell rivers are quite special and globally important, there are sections of the rivers where the mussels are not doing well.
The Clinch River, from somewhere near St. Paul downstream to Clinchport, has seen the number of mussels drop by as much as 90%. For example, the mussel assemblage at Pendleton Island, near Fort Blackmore, has dropped from a high of 43 species and over 25 mussels/m2 to 12 species at fewer than 1 mussel/m2. This is greater than a 95% decrease in the number of mussels in the river with just over ¼ of the species still living there. The Powell River, particularly in the Virginia portion, has also seen similar precipitous declines in mussels. However, improvements have occurred in water quality and the habitat remains reasonably good for mussels.
In response to these declines, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Virginia Tech have been producing and ‘stocking’ mussels in these impacted reaches of the Clinch and Powell rivers to help build up mussel populations. This is very much like the game fish stocking programs for trout or muskie, except the mussel effort is supporting a group of species that benefit the river by cleaning the water, providing food for some river animals, providing habitat for both fish and aquatic insects that serve as their food, and stabilizing the stream bed.
To date, over 2000 adult mussels have been moved from sections of the river where the populations are high to impacted sections to help ‘jump-start’ recovery. In addition, over 500,000 juvenile mussels have been placed in the rivers as part of this effort. Recently, the fruits of this labor have been realized as surveys have shown that some of the released juveniles are growing and surviving while the adults have survived well and are behaving like adult mussels should.