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March 28. 2013 8:19PM

Another View -- Sheridan Brown: The science is clear: NH must ban lead fishing sinkers and jigs

The time has come for stronger laws to protect our loons - a threatened species - from toxic lead fishing tackle, as New Hampshire Senate Bill 89 proposes. Despite nearly three decades of educational outreach to encourage anglers' use of alternatives, lead fishing sinkers and jigs (hooks with a lead weight molded around them) remain by far the largest known cause of New Hampshire adult loon mortality.



When one considers the life cycle of the loon, the importance of protecting adult loons is clear. Loons are slow to breed and often require many years to produce even one or two chicks. For this reason, survival of adult loons is the most important factor in ensuring the continued viability of New Hampshire's small loon population. The loss of adult loons to lead sinkers and jigs - at least 124 between 1989 and 2011 - has had a significant negative impact upon our state's loons.

Decades of data gathered by the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) clearly establish that nearly half (49 percent) of all documented New Hampshire adult loon deaths are caused by ingestion of lead sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less. To address this problem, SB 89 would extend our state's current ban on the sale and freshwater use of lead sinkers and jigs to cover jigs in the aforementioned weight range.

The American Sportfishing Association ("ASA"), an organization that represents tackle manufacturers' business interests, is opposing any restrictions on lead tackle. The ASA claims such laws are "unwarranted" because our loon population is growing - a shameful half-truth. New Hampshire's loon population has experienced meager and painfully slow population growth, which was made possible only by intensive management supported by extensive volunteer contributions. Without such efforts, any gains would be quickly reversed. Just 38 pieces of lead tackle erased six full seasons of work by LPC's volunteers to build and float loon nesting rafts.

ASA also dramatically overstates the cost of switching from lead by saying that alternatives "can" cost 20 times as much as lead tackle. In reality, a wide variety of non-lead tackle is available, it is comparable in cost to lead (sometimes less), and it performs as well or better. Unfortunately, anglers might never know it because ASA's misinformation discourages their exploration of alternatives to lead. An extensive list of non-lead tackle suppliers is available at www.loon.org.

Since the Senate recently passed SB 89 by a unanimous vote, ASA has gone so far as to claim that the bill will end all fishing. Similar histrionics were heard when our Legislature passed the first ban on lead sinkers and jigs in 1998. That bill led other northeastern states to enact similar bans and resulted in a dramatic increase in demand for affordable non-lead tackle.

It is a trend that may be beginning again - much to the ASA's dismay. The Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board voted unanimously to implement lead tackle restrictions similar to those in SB 89, and the Maine legislature is considering similar protections for loons. This is good news for loons, but undoubtedly troubling to the ASA because loon-killing lead tackle has higher profit margins than the non-toxic alternatives.

Alas, some of New Hampshire's bass fishing clubs, such as N.H. B.A.S.S. Federation Nation ("B.A.S.S. Nation"), are buying ASA's hype. Worse yet, these clubs have become openly hostile toward supporters of loon conservation. At its February meeting, B.A.S.S. Nation called SB 89 an attempt to drive bass anglers off the water "under the guise of protecting the loons." The club also discussed how members might challenge protection zones established around loon nests and gain access to fish in these highly sensitive areas.

Additionally, B.A.S.S. Nation has already hazed one manufacturer (and angler) with a boycott for appearing before the Senate to share his experience making a wide range of affordable non-lead tackle. For elite anglers in the clubs - the kind well-equipped with bass boats and hundreds of lures - the cost of investing in non-lead replacements for some of their tackle would be proportionate to the multitude they own. So, for them, providing facts about alternatives equals "selling out the bass fishing fraternity."

Many anglers have a strong conservation ethic and respect for wildlife. Unfortunately, if their support for SB 89 is drowned out by the lead tackle industry, only industry profits - not threatened loons - will be protected.



Sheridan Brown, an attorney from Grantham, is the Loon Preservation Committee's legislative coordinator. He can be reached at advocate@stbrownlaw.com.


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