Loons And Lead

LoonAd50 New Loon Protection Law for the State of  Maine!

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?

Loon from Megunticook Lake in Camden, died of lead poisoning August, 2010  Photo courtesy of Glori Berry and  Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center.

Loon from Megunticook Lake in Camden, died of lead poisoning August, 2010 Photo courtesy of Glori Berry and Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center.

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?

Photo Courtesy of Ginger Gumm

Photo Courtesy of Ginger Gumm

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.


LoonGraphic


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.

Loon002The 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.

For more information on the issue of loons and lead and what is going on in the state of New Hampshire, check out The Loon Preservation Committee page.  In particular, check out the About Loons and Lead page.
For great downloadable posters about loons and loon behavior go to the About Loons page at the same site.
Great information can be found at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Get The Lead Out page.  At the bottom there is a link to where you can request one of their great Get The Lead Out posters for your office.

Tackle Exchange Participating Districts:

Franklin County  Soil & Water Conservation District
Rosetta Thompson
107 Park St
Farmington ME 04938
Phone: (207)778-4279
E-mail: info@franklincswcd.org Website www.franklincswcd.org

Hancock County Soil & Water Conservation District
Megan Facciolo
185 State Street, Suite B
Ellsworth, ME 04605
Phone: (207)667-8663
Email: hancockcountyswcd@outlook.com Website: www.ellsworthme.org/soilandwater

Kennebec  County Soil & Water Conservation District
Dale Finseth
21 Enterprise Drive, Suite #1
Augusta, ME 04330
Phone:  (207)622-7847 E-mail: info@kcswcd.org Website: http://www.kcswcd.org/

Knox-Lincoln  County Soil & Water Conservation District
Rebecca Jacobs/Hildy Ellis
893 West St #103
Rockport, ME 04856
phone: (207)  596- 2040
E-mail: info@knox-lincoln.org Website: www.knox-lincoln.org

Penobscot County  Soil & Water Conservation District
1423 Broadway, Suite #2
Bangor, ME  04401
phone: (207)990-3676
E-mail: info@penobscotswcd.org Web Site: www.penobscotswcd.org

Piscataquis County Soil & Water Conservation District
Joanna  Terrazi/Lynne Lubas
42 Engdahl Drive
Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426
phone: (207)564-2321
E-mail: info@piscataquisswcd.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: laura.lecker@me.nacdnet.net Website: www.somersetswcd.org

Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation District
Kym Sanderson
266 Waterville Rd.
Belfast, ME 04915
Phone: (207) 338-1964, x 3
E-mail: kym.sanderson@me.nacdnet.net

York County Soil & Water Conservation District
Melissa Brandt 21 Bradeen St.
Springvale, ME 04083
Phone: (207) 324-0888 x 214
E-mail: melissabrandt@yorkswcd.org