One of the nation’s toughest bans on lead fishing tackle went into effect in the state on Wednesday in an effort to help protect loons and other birds.
Loon Preservation Committee senior biologist Harry Vogel said the law goes beyond use to include sales and covers sinkers up to an ounce, more far-reaching than most other states’ laws.
“This is big day for loons,” he said. “This is huge.”
Loons are aquatic birds that dive for their food, and they can become poisoned by consuming lead tackle in fish or mistaking it for something edible or for the tiny pebbles they swallow to help digestion. Vogel said lead tackle was the largest cause of loon mortality in New Hampshire, with the state losing 124 loons from 1989 to 2011 because of lead sinkers.
The state’s Fish and Game Department Fisheries Division, which supports the ban, said lead sinkers or jigs can account for up to half of dead adult loons found by researchers. A loon dies from lead poisoning about two to four weeks after ingesting lead tackle.
“It’s the right thing to do, not just for loons but for all wildlife that may ingest lead sinkers and jigs,” Fish and Game Department Fisheries Division Chief Jason Smith said of the ban.
Matt Thoin, the president of the New Hampshire Bass Federation, said he and other anglers shifted away from lead several years ago and are using safer alternatives including tungsten.
“I respect the law and will abide by it,” Thoin said. “As far as an angler’s perspective, tungsten is a better metal to fish with. It has more sensitivity. It is more money and it’s a smaller profile than the equivalent of lead. But the bottom line is that a law is coming into effect. You have to adjust.”
The state has about 300 pairs of loons. Vogel noted that lead poisoning is such a threat because loons don’t start breeding until they are 6 years old and lay only one or two eggs each year.
“The key to maintaining a viable population is to keep adults alive so they have many opportunities over their lifetime to try and reproduce,” he said.
Vogel said the challenge will be enforcing the law and educating anglers about the new regulations and the more expensive alternatives available such as steel and tin sinkers. Among the messages he wants out there is that this is not only for loons but for as many as two dozen other species of birds that have died after ingesting lead tackle.
“It’s one thing to have a law on the books, but it’s another to make sure that people are aware of that law and they comply with it,” Vogel said, noting that many anglers may go out only a few times a year and use equipment with lead from “grandpa’s old dusty tackle box” that goes back years if not decades.