U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
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Fisherman Island
National Wildlife Refuge

part of the Virginia Barrier Island Chain
off the coast of
Cape Charles, VA   23310
E-mail: fw5rw_esvnwr@fws.gov
Phone Number: 757-331-2760
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
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Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Virginia Barrier Island chain, including Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge, is one of only 17 sites in the United States classified as a "A Wetland of International Importance." The refuge is the southern most barrier island, separated from the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge by approximately one-half mile. Sand continues to expand the island's size, which is currently estimated at 1,850 acres. Fisherman Island was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1973. It was managed as an unstaffed satellite of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge until 1984, when management was turned over the newly established Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

Getting There . . .
Because of the critical nature of its habitats for wildlife, Fisherman Island is closed to the public. Guided tours are offered on Saturdays from October through mid-March and during special events.

To schedule a tour, contact the Eastern Shore of Virginia refuge.

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Wildlife and Habitat

This 1,850-acre island includes upland forests, brackish ponds, expansive salt marshes and miles of sandy beaches and grass-covered dunes. Herons, egrets, ibis, songbirds, osprey, and shorebirds all make their homes here while thousands of other species depend on the island as a resting and feeding stop along their migration route.

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As a barrier island, Fisherman Island has a much different history than the nearby Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. The earliest documentation of an island in the vicinity of Fisherman Island is from an 1815 navigational chart of the Chesapeake Bay. Two small islands, named the Bird Islands are shown on the chart just south of Cape Charles. Maps prior to 1815 show only shoals in the area and it is probable that Fisherman Island did not become permanently exposed until around this time.

The first accurate map of Fisherman Island and the Isaacs Islands to the east is from a Coast Survey of 1852, which shows Fisherman to be about 25 acres. While all of Virginia's other barrier islands are shrinking in size and giving way to the constant battering of the sea, Fisherman Island continues to grow, reaching over 1,850 acres at the present.

Human history is almost as long as the existence of the island itself. Early residents used Fisherman as a hunting and fishing spot. Later in history it was used as a quarantine station for European immigrants heading to Baltimore and a military installation for harbor defense during World War I and II. Now, it is a national wildlife refuge for protection of coastal species such as brown pelicans and royal terns.

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The refuge is closed to the public.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
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Management Activities
Habitat succession has formed a mosaic of vegetative communities capable of withstanding harsh island conditions. Dunes, swales and shrub thickets combined with the geographic location of the island, the accessibility of food, protective shrub and thicket cover, and minimal human disturbance make this island an important stopover for migratory birds and an incredible nesting area. Brown pelicans nest in the dunes while American oystercatchers pick choice locations on the beach to raise their young.

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