You don’t have to spend a lot of time on the water to see the Chesapeake’s ospreys. Boaters, watermen, and even people on land can hear the high-pitched whistle of an osprey surveying the scene from above. Ospreys thrive around the Bay and are common sights on navigational buoys and markers. However, a new threat has come to light.

The Chesapeake Bay has some of the finest fishing on the East Coast. In Maryland alone, more than 400,000 anglers ply the Bay and its tidal tributaries from late March through November. The fishing season also corresponds with the osprey’s breeding season. With approximately 3,600 breeding pairs, the Chesapeake Bay supports one of the largest nesting populations of osprey. At least 1,600 breeding pairs live in Maryland. From March to August, while anglers are fishing the Bay, these magnificent birds are building nests, laying eggs, and feeding and rearing their young.

Ospreys are very tolerant of humans and will fish and nest close to populated communities. They often line their nests with a variety of natural and manmade materials, including paper, plastic rope and fishing line. Unfortunately, some of these materials can be to be deadly. Staff biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office and U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center discovered many osprey young entangled in fishing line or impaled with fishing hooks.

Adults have also been spotted entangled in line. Ospreys with legs, wings and beaks 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. In 2003, biologists surveying osprey nests on the Patuxent River found that more than 50% of nests contained fishing line. Conservative estimates indicate that fishing line is present in 5–10% of all osprey nests on the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding rivers.

The potential for entanglement in fishing line is high.
In Maryland alone there are:

  • 44,232 boats registered with a Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing license
  • 417,236 licensed anglers
  • Approximately 288 anglers to each breeding pair of ospreys or
  • Approximately 144 anglers to each individual breeding osprey

The angler to osprey ratio is probably even higher than what is listed above because a Maryland Chesapeake Bay Sport fishing license covers more than one person for registered vessels.
But you can help! Anglers can reduce the injuries or deaths to ospreys and other wildlife simply by properly discarding fishing lines and hooks. If possible, retrieve broken lines, lures and hooks. Always deposit them in trash containers or take them home. Help protect Bay wildlife.

See also :


Share the Chesapeake: But keep your fishing line to yourself

Osprey Natural History

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Link to the Chesapeake Bay Field Office