Our Species Is Still Killing Bald Eagles. Should We Intervene?

Conowingo – A Photographer and Bald Eagle Enthusiast is Asking For Protection of Birds from Anglers.

The bald eagles, cormorants, great blue herons, osprey and anglers have all come for the same reason – fish.

On any given day at Conowingo Dam, you’ll see them all fishing together at the base of the dam in  what is referred to as the ‘bowl.’  Each time the dam’s powerful engines come alive, the fish are churned up in the giant whirlpool of this bowl, creating the perfect opportunity for bird or human to catch their next meal.

Bald eagle with fish at Conowingo Dam. Photo by Donna L. Cole.
Bald eagle with fish at Conowingo Dam. Photo by Donna L. Cole.

 

And where you have this extremely concentrated intermingling of species – anglers and birds, there are occasional problems.  Most especially for the birds.

Errant fish hooks and lines are finding their way into or wrapped around birds causing injury and/or death.  While I’m certain most anglers don’t purposely lose, toss, or cut lines, leaving hook and bait behind, the fact is – it happens.

 

Monofilament (fishing line) and bobber hanging from a tree at Conowingo.
Monofilament (fishing line) and bobber hanging from a tree at Conowingo. Photo by Donna L. Cole.

Prior to social media, the problem likely existed.  Now, with social media and the ease of sharing of photographs, the problem is visible and it’s not easy to look at.

An angler at Conowingo Dam saving a drowning, great blue heron who had been snagged by fishing gear. Photo by Jeff Snyder.
An angler saving a drowning, great blue heron who had been snagged by fishing gear. Photo by Jeff Snyder.

 

Angler at Conowingo Dam saves a great blue heron from fishing gear entanglement. Photo by Jeff Snyder.
Angler at Conowingo Dam saves a great blue heron from fishing gear entanglement. Photo by Jeff Snyder.
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Great blue heron after being rescued from fishing gear entanglement at Conowingo Dam. Photo by Jeff Snyder.

David Lychenheim, who operates the Conowingo Bald Eagles Facebook page and spends a great deal of time at the dam, photographing birds, is seeking protection for them from anglers and their errant gear.  He has suggested the anglers be moved just a hop, skip and a jump down river from the dam’s bowl.  This would still allow plenty of room for both humans and birds to fish, but not on top of one another.

 

Cormorant with fishing gear at Conowingo Dam. Photo by David Lychenheim.
Cormorant with fishing gear at Conowingo Dam. Photo by David Lychenheim.

Lychenheim wrote, “The problem, in my opinion, is that the bowl at the base of the dam is a prime fishing area for Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and Cormorants. The area is also a very popular place for people to fish. The two uses, in a relatively small area, continue to cause a conflict between the wildlife and the fishermen. Birds swallowing fish with hooks or getting entangled in fishing line happens to many times. I have nothing against fishermen but wish we could convince the authorities to designate this area a “fishing free zone”. If we are truly interested in protecting these birds, especially the American Bald Eagle, who is protected by law, then we need to take proactive action rather than waiting for more birds to be harmed!!!

I respect the rights of fishermen and think the answer is actually quite simple. Let the fishermen continue to fish anywhere along the river but restrict fishing in this bowl area at the base of the dam. The Susquehanna River is huge and offers good fishing all along its banks or by boat. We need to do a better job protecting the wildlife that feed in this bowl. I have already talked to the folks at DNR about this problem and they reported back that they see no significant mortality as a result of fishing activities. To me there can be a better answer than doing nothing. My approach takes both uses into consideration but would designate only a relatively small section of the river as a “fish hook/line free zone” for the protection of our National Bird (and others). The rest of the river downstream would have no fishing restrictions.”

Yes, the fish will likely be a little more difficult to hook because of the distance from the churning whirlpool of the dam, but so will the birds.

Bald eagle at Conowingo with monofilament (fishing line) in talons. Photo by Chris Brennan.
Bald eagle at Conowingo with monofilament (fishing line) in talons. Photo by Chris Brennan.

A Bigger Problem That Goes Beyond Conowingo

Lead in fishing and hunting gear continues to wreak havoc and death on wildlife, post ingestion.  Bald eagles and other species will eat that which is left behind by hunters and anglers, whether it’s a fish with a sinker in it, or a deer with a bullet – yes, lead exists in both.  Some states are banning it.  Not Maryland.

Banning of lead ammunition in California – http://abc30.com/politics/details-on-new-law-to-ban-lead-bullets-in-california/255967/

Information on lead in fishing gear and some alternatives – http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/living-green/living-green-citizen/household-hazardous-waste/nontoxic-tackle-lets-get-the-lead-out.html

From National Geographic on lead poisoning in eagles – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140829-poison-eagle-lead-bullet-rescue-wildlife-science-winged-warning/

The following offers some great insight from a wildlife rehab center in Virginia –

http://wildlifecenter.org/news_events/news/wildlife-center-admits-lead-poisoned-bald-eagle-Chesapeake

The banning of DDT and the recovery of the bald eagle – http://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/recovery/biologue.html, http://www.edf.org/news/25-years-after-ddt-ban-bald-eagles-osprey-numbers-soar

Eliminating lead will definitely be a costly transition for manufacturers. In our history, we have countless examples of associations/lobbies fighting change because of the monetary cost to those they represent and I don’t want to get into the business of politics and powerful lobbies, other than that statement.  Change will ultimately happen.  When, I don’t know – I tend to believe the more we speak up for those that can’t, the more we force change.  Possibly losing our national bird  or putting it on the endangered species list again – and again because of our mistakes – that is even more costly than banning lead.

As for those who believe we have too many government regulations and don’t need any more, I ask what would have happened if DDT wasn’t banned?  If Rachel Carson hadn’t spoke up?

If you’ve never seen the video, Why the Eagles Returned, please watch it http://vimeo.com/73593168

Thanks for taking the time to read this.   If you agree with what I wrote, please like and share it as the birds can’t.  And if you’re in a position to make a difference for this and future generations of wildlife and humans, I hope you’ll consider trying to.

 

Juvenile bald eagle holding fishing gear in its mouth at Conowingo. Photo by David Lychenheim.
Juvenile bald eagle holding fishing gear in its mouth at Conowingo. Photo by David Lychenheim.

 

 

 

 

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