News and Activities

Ospreys: Whose (Fishing) Line is it Anyway?

Date Posted: August 18, 2003

During the past three years, the Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office and the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has been investigating the effects environmental contaminants may have on the reproductive success of osprey nesting in the three Regions of Concern (ROCs) in the Chesapeake Bay, and in the Delaware Bay and River. Results of the study have shown that contaminants, although elevated in some instances, do not appear to be affecting the reproductive health of osprey nesting in these ROCs, however, another threat (although it has existed for some time) has gained some attention. Observations made during the studies, have shown that osprey, particularly the young, are getting entangled in fishing line brought to the nest by the adults. In some cases, fish hooks were found embedded in the flesh of young birds, requiring sutures in one case. Birds entangled in fishing line can become immobilized and can die of starvation. In addition, constricted limbs can result in amputation, resulting in a slow death. As a result of these observations, CBFO sought funds from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Service’s Maryland Fisheries Resource Office to initiate a public outreach program to inform anglers of the threat fishing line poses to osprey and other wildlife. The public outreach initiative included several media types which included signs, fact cards, webposting, and radio. Signs alerting anglers to the fishing line problem and ways to dispose of used fishing line are in the process of being installed at most public boat launch ramps, landings, and piers in the tidal areas of Maryland. In addition, Maryland Department of Natural Resources is also distributing fact cards containing additional information pertaining to the fishing line problem with fishing licenses sold over the counter and has posted the information on its fisheries website. The Maryland Charter Boat Association has also informed its members of the problem through newsletters. Lastly, Watershed Radio, a daily information service sponsored by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Consortium, the Sierra Club, and others, broadcast a small segment on the fishing line problem and how to reduce this threat to wildlife later. A similar effort is being initiated for Delaware and Virginia in 2004. In addition, the New York State Department of Environmental Control recently expressed an interest in conducting a similar outreach effort for their state. Lastly, at the request of CBFO, Maryland and Virginia osprey banders will be providing data on how many of the nests they visited in 2003 contained fishing line, bird entanglement, and injuries/mortalities. This information will used to determine how widespread the fishing line problem is in Chesapeake Bay.

Peter McGowan at 410-573-4523

U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. HiLites - Angler Alert from the Chesapeake Bay Trust
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Bay Journal - Fishing lines pose deadly threat to Chesapeake’s young ospreys
Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Maryland Fishing Report (1/14/2003).

Last updated: June 12, 2015