As anglers dust off their tackle boxes, it's a great time to make sure that all the lead is out. Decades of research by the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough has proven the toxicity of lead fishing tackle to wildlife. One lead sinker an ounce or less in weight can kill a loon in a matter of weeks. Loons swallow grit and pebbles that help to grind up food, and sometimes there's a sinker in the gravelly mix. Fishermen lose a lot of sinkers.
Lead-weighted hooks, called jigs, are another matter. Often they get snagged or swallowed by the fish that gets away—and then become prey for a range of wildlife including herons and eagles, as well as loons.
As a matter of pride, New Hampshire was the first state to outlaw lead sinkers and jigs of a certain size for freshwater fishing. Some states followed suit; most have not.
The not-so-good news is that in 2010, 11 loons were found from lead poisoning—ten years after the ban. It's the highest kill number yet in the state. Lead sinkers and jigs are still being used despite the ban, and loon deaths from lead threaten to reverse their recovery. Thanks to the Loon Committee we know about loons, they get a lot of attention. However, the toll on ducks and geese remains unknown.
As often is the case, education and the responsible action that follows can be more effective than laws that are hard to enforce, inadequate, or—in most states—nonexistent. Alternative, non-toxic sinkers and jigs are widely available. Let's help get the lead out of the food chain, and disposed of properly.
UPDATE: On 27 March, the NH Senate passed SB224, which will phase out the use of lead sinkers and jigs by 2018. The bill is now in the house.