Osprey nests in Virginia’s lower Chesapeake Bay are failing at the highest rate ever recorded, according to data released this month by the College of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology. Out of 167 nests monitored, only 17 produced young osprey, well below levels needed to sustain the osprey population. Researchers linked the nest failure to locally low numbers of menhaden, a highly nutritious forage fish that is the target of a large industrial fishery in the lower Bay by Omega Protein.
“Within Mobjack Bay young osprey are starving in nests because the decades long overharvest of menhaden has caused local depletion,” states Dr. Bryan Watts, Director of the College of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology. Watts adds, “although osprey do feed on other fish species within the lower Chesapeake Bay none of these species offer comparable nutrient content.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore issued the following statement.
“The osprey reproduction issues in the lower Chesapeake Bay are alarming. Menhaden are a key food for not only osprey, but many other iconic species, from striped bass to humpback whales.
“For decades we’ve been concerned about Omega Protein’s industrial harvest of menhaden in the Bay, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has long fought to ensure enough menhaden are left in the water for a healthy ecosystem.
“Given the latest data on osprey reproduction from William & Mary, it is more important than ever to quantify localized depletion of menhaden in the Chesapeake. Without this information, species like osprey will continue to bear the weight of Omega’s fishing activities while the company continues to profit. We urge Omega Protein to cooperate with state scientists to address this critical issue.”