Freshwater mussels in B.C. – An index of the health of fish populations

Freshwater mussels in B.C. – An index of the health of fish populations.

Rick Harbo, Research Associate, Natural History, Royal BC Museum

In British Columbia, there are 5 to 7 known species of freshwater mussels. The Western Pearlshell Margaritifera falcata is the most common and abundant “mussel” (>300/ m2) in rivers and streams. On Vancouver Island, the Winged Floater, Anodonta nuttalliana, is found in streams and lakes. The Rocky Mountain Ridged mussel, Gonidea angulata, found in Okanagan Lake and other lakes, was recommended for endangered status (COSEWIC 2010).

These bivalves are important filters in watercourses and are an index of the health of fish populations. The mussels are dependent on freshwater fishes, including salmon and trout, as part of their fascinating life-cycle. The mussels are a food source to a variety of birds, river otters, raccoons and other creatures. They are not considered safe to eat by humans. Often long-lived, the mussels may be important in monitoring toxins.

Among the many threats to freshwater mussels are declines in fish populations, lakeshore construction, invasive aquatic macrophytes, and invasive fishes.

Distribution data and repeated surveys are needed to provide a better understanding of the basic biology  and species status in British Columbia.


Rick Harbo (Nanaimo) – Bio

Rick grew up in Saltair, Vancouver Island, working at marinas, docks, oyster leases and as a deckhand on towboats.

After 36 years with the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as a chemist, habitat protection biologist, and fishery manager, Rick retired and resides in Nanaimo. His efforts are now directed towards writing, photography and “citizen science”.  Rick currently volunteers as a Research Associate, in Invertebrate Zoology, at the Royal BC Museum.  He contributes and identifies marine species for the Canadian Barcode of Life program (CBOL).

Author of numerous publications including Tidepool and Reef (1980), Whelks to Whales (Received B.C. 2000 Book Award; 2nd Edition 2011), Shells and Shellfish of the Pacific Northwest (1997), and Pacific Reef and Shore (2nd Edition 2017). Rick has contributed underwater and topside images to numerous biology textbooks published in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

Rick contributed a chapter and photographers for the book The Sea Among Us. The Amazing Strait of Georgia. Harbour Publishing (2014).