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Lawmakers consider funding mussel restoration plan

Bivalves held by a human hand
Crixell Matthews
Mussels from the Harrison Lake Hatchery in Charles City County. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia lawmakers are considering whether the Department of Wildlife Resources should hire two biologists to put together and implement a statewide freshwater mussel protection and restoration plan.

Virginia is home to over 80 species of the critters. Scientists say they’re an essential part of ecosystems - each one can filter pollutants from up to an estimated 15 gallons of water a day. But populations in the wild are declining.

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) is distraught to see that decline. He grew up exploring the Cowpasture River in Bath County, where he says he’d often find mussels in the muck.

Deeds has proposed putting together a statewide restoration plan.

He points to the success seen in oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. They’re undoubtedly Virginia’s most popular bivalve and have gathered extensive public support. Oysters have clear economic value - but they’re also seen as central to the brackish bay ecosystem.

“The reality is that the mussel is exactly the same. It has the same level of importance in our freshwaters,” Deeds said.

Deeds’ proposal sets aside $400,000 over two years to get a mussel restoration plan going.

It’s being evaluated as legislators finalize the budget they’ll send to Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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