LD 730, An Act to Protect Maine’s Loons by Banning Lead Sinkers and Jigs, has been passed into law! Senator Anne Haskell (D), sponsor of the bill, garnered strong bipartisan support from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, as well as the House and Senate. The Senate approved the bill 35-0.
LD 730, introduced by the Maine Audubon Society, bans the sale and use of lead fishing sinkers one ounce or less, as well as bare lead-headed jigs 2.5” long or less. The law is phased-in with first phases beginning this fall with the ban on the use and sale of lead sinkers and ending September 1, 2017 with the ban on the use of lead headed jigs 2.5” or less in length.
Why is this important? Why not use lead fishing tackle?
Lead has been known for centuries to be toxic – to humans and wildlife alike. Children are particularly susceptible to lead absorption and handling lead sinkers and jigs puts them at risk for lead poisoning.
Angling and other outdoor sports deposit thousands of tons of lead into the environment each year.
Lead ingestion is a death sentence for Maine’s loons, other water birds, and even predatory birds, such as bald eagles, that may feed on these water birds. When sinkers and jigs are lost by anglers, they settle on the bottom of the lake. Loons mistakenly ingest the lead while foraging for the gravel they require, or from feeding on fish attached to lead fishing gear. Just one small sinker or jig head is enough to kill an adult loon, and the scenario is all too common.
What are the alternatives?
The good news is that there are many non-toxic alternatives to lead fishing tackle. Alternatives include those made of natural rock, tin, steel, bismuth, tungsten, ceramic and more. Non-toxic tackle comes in many different types and sizes. Check out the many companies that offer a variety of non-toxic tackle alternatives here.
Use of these alternatives is healthier for you, your children, wildlife and the environment. Together, we can prevent lead poisoning. Your choices can save lives.
The following clip is a video of one of the lead poisoned loons from central Maine that was brought to Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom (http://www.avianhaven.org/) this past summer. You will see that the bird is in respiratory distress, a common symptom of lead poisoning in loons. This bird did not live the rest of the day. As yet, there are no known cases of a loon surviving lead poisoning. By viewing this video, one gets a feeling for what these birds go through with lead poisoning – death is neither easy nor peaceful. Keep in mind that these deaths can be prevented.
Silence on Maine’s Lakes – preventing lead poisoning of our loons
On lakes across the state this summer, many folks are enjoying time out on the water, angling for their favorite fish. If anglers are still using lead fishing tackle, however, they are putting waterbirds at serious risk, particularly our loons.
For many folks that live on or near a lake, the haunting call of the loon is the sound of summer. Lake enthusiasts anticipate loon arrivals in the spring and enjoy watching them throughout the season. Of the many threats to loon populations, lead poisoning is the number one cause of death of adult loons.
The scenario plays out on and near many of our local lakes and ponds every year. On June 17, 2013, an adult loon was found in the middle of Bunker Hill Road in Jefferson, near Deer Meadow Pond. The bird was disoriented and helpless as traffic moved past. Finally, concerned citizen, Paula Roberts, arrived on the scene and stopped to help. She transported the bird to Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Freedom, where an x-ray confirmed that he had ingested a lead-headed fishing jig.
Avian Haven’s compassionate care and efforts to save the Jefferson loon and many others over the years is nothing short of heroic. Radiographs and lead blood testing are standard primary diagnostic tools, followed by swift appropriate action to stop the lead poisoning process. The gastric lavage technique that Avian Haven uses is an incredible advance in treating lead poisoned loons. This technique allows for the safe and quick removal of lead and other foreign objects from the gastro-intestinal tract of even very down and out birds.
Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the Jefferson loon died within a couple of days of rescue. The reality is that only prevention can save loons from lead. Lead poisoning effects on the body are severe and fast, causing damage to organs and body systems. Loons with lead poisoning are generally disoriented, unable to fly and dive, struggling simply to remain upright. Sadly, to date there have been no reported cases of a loon surviving lead ingestion.
How do loons get lead poisoning? When lead sinkers and jigs are lost by anglers, these items settle on the bottom of the lake, where they do not dissolve. Loons forage the bottom of lakes for gravel, which enables their gizzards to break down fish bones. Lead sinkers and jigs are accidentally ingested along with the gravel. Birds may also ingest lead when feeding on fish attached to lead fishing gear. Lead is a death sentence for Maine’s loons, other water birds, and even predatory birds, such as bald eagles, that may feed on these water birds or fish attached to lead gear.
The Soil and Water Conservation Districts can help you make a difference! Lead poisoning tragedies can be prevented. There are many non-toxic alternatives to lead fishing tackle. The Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District has been running an Unleaded Loons education project since 2009, and as part of this program, nine SWCD offices in the state offer free non-lead tackle of many types and materials in exchange for lead tackle.
Somerset County SWCD also offers presentations for sports groups, lake associations and high schools to show how lead fishing tackle affects Maine’s water birds and predatory birds. The program focuses on the use of safer fishing protocol and what citizens can do to help. They also hold free tackle exchange events at a variety of locations during the fishing season. Funding for presentations and exchanges provided in part by the Davis Conservation Foundation and Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.
Lead poisoning is a critical conservation issue for Maine’s wild bird populations, and lake users hold the key to prevention. So please, before you enjoy that next quiet morning of fishing out on your favorite lake, take a look through your tackle box. Remove anything that you suspect may be lead-based, and remember that doing so may well save a life.
Lead poisoning is the number one cause of death in adult loons in the northeast.
Sites with more information:
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts has been conducting a loon health study for over 20 years. Almost half (44%) of the over 1500 dead and dying breeding loons submitted to the Wildlife Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts suffered from lead poisoning. Follow this link to learn much more.
Tackle Exchange Participating Districts:
Hancock County Soil & Water Conservation District
185 State Street, Suite B
Ellsworth, ME 04605
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.ellsworthme.org/soilandwater
Knox-Lincoln County Soil & Water Conservation District
Rebecca Jacobs/Hildy Ellis
893 West St #103
Rockport, ME 04856
phone: (207) 596- 2040
E-mail: email@example.com Website: www.knox-lincoln.org
Piscataquis County Soil & Water Conservation District
Joanna Terrazi/Lynne Lubas
42 Engdahl Drive
Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.piscataquisswcd.org
Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District
Laura Lecker/Carol Weymouth
12 High Street, Suite 3
Skowhegan, Maine 04976
Phone: (207) 474-8324 x 3
Email: email@example.com Website: www.somersetswcd.org
Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation District
266 Waterville Rd.
Belfast, ME 04915
Phone: (207) 338-1964, x 3
York County Soil & Water Conservation District
Melissa Brandt 21 Bradeen St.
Springvale, ME 04083
Phone: (207) 324-0888 x 214