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Recovery Strategy for the Northern Riffleshell, Snuffbox, Round Pigtoe, Mudpuppy Mussel and Rayed Bean in Canada (Final)

II. Recovery: Potential impacts, actions completed and evaluation

4. Potential Impacts of Recovery Strategy on Other Species/Ecological Processes

The Northern Riffleshell, Snuffbox, Round Pigtoe, Mudpuppy Mussel and Rayed Bean are sensitive species, particularly to issues of water quantity and quality. For this reason, we expect that efforts made to improve conditions for these mussels will benefit most other aquatic species. A few opportunistic species that can readily adapt to degraded conditions (e.g., giant floater (Pyganodon grandis) or fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)) may see a decline in numbers/range as a result of rehabilitative efforts. These changes should not be viewed in a negative light but rather as a restoration of the aquatic community to pre-disturbance conditions.

5. Actions Already Completed or Underway

Sydenham River Aquatic Ecosystem Recovery Strategy

The Sydenham River Recovery Team became the first group in Canada to adopt an ecosystem approach for recovering aquatic species when they completed the Sydenham River Aquatic Ecosystem Recovery Strategy (SRAERS) in 2003 (Dextrase et al. 2003). The recovery strategy focuses on 14 aquatic species (5 mussels, 8 fishes, 1 turtle) within the basin that are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern by COSEWIC. The Northern Riffleshell, Snuffbox, Mudpuppy Mussel and Rayed Bean are all considered in the Sydenham River Strategy; however, the Round Pigtoe is not.

Thames River Recovery Ecosystem Strategy

The Thames River Recovery Team (TRRT) has set out to develop an ecosystem based recovery strategy for the Thames River watershed. The stated goal is to develop “a recovery plan that improves the status of all aquatic species at risk in the Thames River through an ecosystem approach that sustains and enhances all native aquatic communities” (Thames River Recovery Team 2004). This recovery strategy addresses 25 COSEWIC listed species including 7 mussels, 12 fishes and 6 reptiles. Four of the five mussel species are being considered in the development of this strategy: Northern Riffleshell, Round Pigtoe, Mudpuppy Mussel, and Rayed Bean. Recovery actions proposed by the TRRT will increase the likelihood that Recovery Habitat for these species in the Thames River will prove suitable for possible future reintroductions. 

Ausable River Ecosystem Recovery Strategy

The Ausable River Recovery Team is developing an ecosystem Recovery Strategy for the 14 COSEWIC listed aquatic species in the Ausable River basin. This plan covers 4 endangered mussel species including the Northern Riffleshell and Snuffbox. The overall goal of the strategy is to “sustain a healthy native aquatic community in the Ausable River through an ecosystem approach that focuses on species at risk” (Ausable River Recovery Team 2005). The Ausable River Recovery Team (2005) has also established a species-specific recovery goal for mussels to maintain existing populations of species at risk and restore self-sustaining populations to areas of the river where they formerly occurred.

Grand River Fish Species at Risk Recovery Strategy

The Grand River Recovery Team has developed a draft recovery strategy for fish species at risk in the Grand River. The goal of this strategy is “to conserve and enhance the native fish community using sound science, community involvement and habitat improvement measures” (Portt et al. 2003). Although the strategy does not directly address any mussels species, their “habitat preferences and requirements will be taken into account when assessing management actions targeting fish species at risk. In most cases, it is anticipated that recovery actions benefiting fishes at risk will also benefit these other rare species” (Portt et al. 2003).

Walpole Island Ecosystem Recovery Strategy

The Walpole Island Ecosystem Recovery Strategy Team was established in 2001 to develop an ecosystem based recovery strategy for the area containing the St. Clair River delta with the goal of outlining steps to maintain or rehabilitate the ecosystem and species at risk (Walpole Island Heritage Centre 2002). Although the strategy is initially focusing on terrestrial ecosystems there are future plans to include aquatic components of the ecosystem.

Host Fishes Identification

A research group led by Dr. J. Ackerman and Dr. G. Mackie has been established at the University of Guelph to investigate aspects of the reproductive cycle of freshwater mussels (host fish determination, glochidial development, juvenile growth and survival). The group conducts its research at the Hagen Aqua Lab on the grounds of the University in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. This facility has been used to investigate potential hosts for four species of endangered mussels including the Northern Riffleshell, Rayed Bean and Snuffbox (McNichols and Mackie 2004). Between 2002-2004 they identified five host species for the Northern Riffleshell including the blackside darter, Iowa darter, Johnny darter, mottled sculpin and rainbow darter; five for the Rayed Bean including the brook stickleback, greenside darter, Johnny darter, logperch and rainbow darter; and four for the Snuffbox including the Iowa darter, logperch, mottled sculpin, and largemouth bass. These results still need to be confirmed with further testing in the lab, particularly for the Northern Riffleshell and Snuffbox.

Stewardship Activities

Stewardship activities, through partnerships with local landowners, conservation authorities, MNR stewardship councils and other provincial and federal agencies, have been initiated in many of the watersheds where these species currently or historically occurred. For example stewardship programs have been available in the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority since 2000 for projects involving construction of fencing, watercourses crossings and alternate watering systems in order to prevent livestock from accessing watercourse; construction, repair or improvement of manure storage, clean water diversions and/or runoff collection systems; planting of riparian buffers along watercourses; construction or enhancement of wetlands; repair or replacement of malfunctioning private septic systems; naturalization, construction or improvement to streambank to improve bank stability; construction of traps and ponds to collect sediment from drainage.

Currently, the Ausable-Bayfield Conservation Authority is able to provide funding for stewardship activities such as: tree planting, windbreaks, buffer strips, Nutrient Management Plans, well-decommissioning, wellhead protection, livestock washwater, manure spreading equipment modifications, conservation tillage modifications, clean water diversion, livestock restriction, fertilizer, fuel and chemical storage and handling, erosion control, conservation tillage equipment modifications and septic system upgrades. Implementation of these projects improves water quality and habitat for aquatic species at risk. Funding for many stewardship activities has been provided through the federal Habitat Stewardship Program.

Mussel Monitoring Network

Fifteen permanent monitoring stations for mussels have been established within the Sydenham River. An additional six stations were established during 2004/2005 in the Thames River and seven sites were established on the Ausable River in 2006. These sites will be part of an ongoing monitoring system as part of the Ausable, Sydenham, and Thames ecosystem recovery strategies and will provide quantitative trend through time data to evaluate recovery actions as well as the overall status of mussel communities.

Nutrient Management Act

Implementation of this provincial legislation, which came into force September 30 2003, will regulate the storage and use of nutrients including manure, farmyard run-off and farm washwater. This should reduce nutrient inputs to the watercourses, which will benefit the aquatic habitats of the mussels.

Allowable Harm Analysis

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in partnership with other interested parties, has initiated an analysis of the potential for populations of these species to withstand any additional level of human-induced mortality without impeding recovery of the species.

Source Protection Planning

A White Paper on Watershed-based Source Protection Planning was released in February 2004 (Ontario Ministry of the Environment 2004). The Clean Water Act was introduced in provincial parliament in December 2005. This legislation will identify potential sources of contamination to the surface water and groundwater, determine how much water is readily available, evaluate where that water is vulnerable to contamination and implement programs to minimize threats to water quality and water quantity.

6. Action Plans

One or more action plans relating to this recovery strategy will be produced within five years of the strategy being completed. Wherever possible, recovery action plans should be linked to existing watershed recovery teams. Recovery resources in southwestern Ontario (both fiscal and personnel) are limited. Partnership with other recovery teams will ensure that efforts are not duplicated and will help to prevent the implementation of recovery efforts that may conflict between species.

7. Evaluation

The routine monitoring programs will provide the primary means of evaluating the success of the listed recovery approaches. The monitoring programs will provide trend data through time, which aids in tracking the populations and habitats of the Northern Riffleshell, Snuffbox, Round Pigtoe, Mudpuppy Mussel and Rayed Bean. This will form the basis of an adaptive management program. Recovery Implementation Groups will develop specific targets in the Recovery Action Plans to provide a further basis for evaluating success. The entire Recovery Strategy will be reviewed in 5 years at which time all goals, objectives and approaches will be re-evaluated.