U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Many anglers would rather fish with a jig
than anything else. Most crappie anglers use nothing but jigs, which
also are popular with trout anglers. Many bass anglers believe they
aren't really fishing if they aren't heaving a lead-headed jig &
pig. Most anglers use lead split shot in their various rigs.
At one time or another, just about every angler uses lead. But
there is a movement to ban the use of lead in fishing, just as it was
in waterfowl hunting a generation ago. Lead seemed as essential to
duck hunters before 1970 as it seems to anglers now. But eventually,
alternatives were found.
Evidence is slowly growing that lead left by anglers is poisoning
wildlife. Birds pick up split shot, jigs, etc., mistaking them for
tiny crustaceans or grit. The soft metal is ground away in their
gizzards and becomes lead salts that are a powerful poison.
The birds lose mobility and then are killed and eaten by
predators, which in turn are poisoned. At least 26 kinds of birds are
known to be at risk to lead fishing tackle. Secondary poisoning may
be killing more wildlife than direct poisoning.
Evidence of poisoning by fishing tackle is by no means as strong
as it was concerning spent shotgun pellets. The strongest evidence
involves loons, which are in mysterious decline in some parts of the
U.S. and Canada. One study indicated that loon mortality by lead was
more than 50 percent in some New Hampshire lakes.
Lead sinkers weighing less than an ounce were banned in Britain in
1987 because of the harm they were causing swans and other diving and
wading birds. Two years ago, New Hampshire banned the use of lead
sinkers weighing less than an ounce and jigs measuring less than an
inch in length. Maine banned their sale. Last year, lead bans of
various kinds were discussed in the legislatures of Minnesota,
Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont. Only Vermont took action,
beginning an education campaign to get anglers to quit using lead
Also last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the use
of lead tackle in three national refuges, in Montana, Wyoming, and
Michigan. It announced plans for bans in 13 more states, but those
plans have been shelved indefinitely.
Neither Missouri nor Illinois have many loons, but they do have
birds that feed in the water, including swans, herons and wood ducks.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed restrictions on lead
in fishing in 1994, but lawmakers did not pass it. Most observers
believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is unlikely to revive the
idea under the new Republican administration.
If more states pass anti-lead regulations, though, pressure will
grow for federal action. Otherwise, tackle manufacturers will have to
deal with a patchwork of regulations across the country.
The fishing tackle industry has been dubious about lead bans, not
because its members don't like loons but because they can't sell the
lead replacement products they already make. About 20 manufacturers
already offer non-toxic fishing gear made from ceramics and metals
and mixtures of metals such as tin, steel, tungsten, and bismuth.
Except for a few areas, notably New England and California, sales
have been slow. Many retailers don't even stock it because it is more
expensive than lead, said Randy Dickerson, whose Jadico Ltd. at
Camdenton, Mo., is the country's largest producer of tackle items
made of bismuth. Bismuth is a metal about as heavy as lead but which
costs about 10 times as much.
"You just can't sell the stuff where it isn't required because
fishermen don't see the sense of paying 3-10 times more for non-toxic
alternatives," he said.
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