Bouctouche River rare mussel find excites environmentalists

An anglers group in New Brunswick plans to pursue improved protection measures for the Bouctouche River after discovering a rare freshwater mussel in the waterway.

Group hopes discovery will help in bid for strengthened environmental protection for the river

Valérie Martin, Tina Sonier and Darlene Elward are searching the bed of the Bouctouche River for brook floater mussels. (Denis Calnan/CBC News)
An anglers group in New Brunswick plans to pursue improved protection measures for the Bouctouche River after discovering a rare freshwater mussel in the waterway.

The Southeastern Anglers Association found six brook floater mussels, an aquatic species of special concern in Canada, in the river over the last month.

"We just danced around [in the river]," laughed Valerie Martin, a summer student at the environmental organization of the initial find. "We were just really excited because we didn't expect to find any that particular day. It was like a big surprise."

The mussels were last spotted in the area a decade ago. 

The species is being re-assessed to determine whether it should be re-classified by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Martin, who spotted the first specimen said it was easy to identify because of distinctive features like an orange foot.

The orange foot of the mussel was a happy sight for researchers. (Submitted by Southeastern Anglers Association)
The group has been working closely with the Shediac Bay Watershed Association. The two groups had a friendly competition to see which group could find the mussel first.

In reaction to hearing about the find, Jolyne Hebert, with the Watershed Association, said that she was "excited and a little jealous". 

"It sort of boosted our motivation to go out there and search even harder and try to find some, just to say that we found some too. But we haven't been so lucky yet. But we're still looking," said Hebert.

One of the mussels was sent to the New Brunswick Museum for analysis and confirmation of the identity of the species.

Members of the southeastern Anglers Association search the Bouctouche River for brook floater mussels. (Denis Calnan/ CBC News)
"We only found four [alive] - but it's not a low number for that kind of species. So that's great, even if it's only four," stressed Tina Sonier, project manager with the Association.

"The more species that we find in one river, it's a good indicator of the water quality and the biodiversity in the river," said Sonier.

The group is now looking at how they can use the discovery to strengthen the protection of the mussels' habitat in the river. The mussels were found in a part of the river that ATV users sometimes drive through.

"It's a shame that we found it in an ATV trail," said Sonier.

Sonier and the association plans to try and educate the surrounding community about the rare mussels and to work with ATV drivers on alternative ways to cross the river.

"[The mussels] can't move too far so we need to make sure that the habitat stays the same," said Sonier.

The group says it will also be planting trees near the site to try and stop shore erosion, since sediment could be harmful to the mussels.

Sonier says she hopes no one attempts to harvest the mollusks, adding they don't taste very good.

"They are important so don't eat them. They're not good anyway," she said.