Jamie McGrigor emphasised the importance of Scotland’s endangered fresh water pearl mussels in the Scottish Parliament today. The Highlands & Islands MSP and the Scottish Conservative Environment Spokesman was speaking in a Member’s debate on the subject secured by his colleague Mary Scanlon MSP.
He said ‘In conducting research for today it was fascinating to learn more about the biology of this species, as well as its long history in Scotland. It is one of the longest living invertebrates in existence with a lifespan of 100 years or more; one specimen found in the 1990s in Estonia was 134 years old. And according to the verbal briefing we received today it is possible there are freshwater mussels in Russia which are over 200 years old. Look at all the history that has passed them by, let alone the water.
‘An adult mussel can filter 50 litres of water a day, an amazing volume given their size and something which is very important for water quality. In the past in Scottish rivers they were fished and some of the pearl fishermen were clever enough, using reversible callipers, to be able to open a mussel and check if there was a pearl and extract the pearl and close the mussel without significant damage; but these people were experts who wanted to make their livelihoods sustainable.
Modern day illegal cowboys just using pen-knifes just leave a trail of death and destruction and what has been there for literally hundreds of years can be destroyed by sheer ignorance.
‘As we have heard, despite now enjoying full legal protection, there are real concerns about the population numbers of what is a critically endangered species – indeed, by some estimates it is in the top 400 most endangered species on the whole planet.
‘Threats to the species come from illegal pearl fishing – an identified threat in 99% of rivers containing pearl mussels in Scotland-, habitat degradation or destruction, pollution and climate change.
‘…salmon and trout are the taxis that take them to their future living quarters’
‘The declining population in some areas of wild salmon and trout- an issue I have raised many times before- is also a very important factor as pearl mussels spend the early part of their life cycle developing harmlessly in the gills of salmon and trout. These are the spats, the future seed-corn. The salmon and trout are the taxis that take them to their future living quarters.
‘Decline in salmon and trout stocks is a particular concern in the west coast and northwest coast of my region of the Highlands & Islands. It is essential that the reasons for these declines are more fully investigated as it appears that east and north coast runs fare much better.
‘Protecting and enhancing our stocks of pearl mussels is therefore another reason why we need to better understand and respond to the declines in salmon and trout numbers- if we do not have salmon and trout in our rivers we simply won’t have pearl mussels either. It’s all the same ecosystem.
‘In terms of public tackling of the very serious destruction of pearl mussels in the search for the rare pearl found in 1% of pearl mussels, all of us in this Parliament can send out the very clear message that this is illegal and totally unacceptable. If people see any suspicious activity they should not hesitate to contact their local police station and ask for the wildlife crime officer.
‘If Scotland and other developed countries are to persuade less advanced nations on the need to conserve their endangered species, we must preserve- and be seen to be preserving- the rare species we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep.’