CONCORD— Lead sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less will be banned beginning June 1, 2016, under Senate Bill 89 passed by the House Wednesday on a 225-142 vote.
Conservationists and environmentalists say lead sinkers and jigs are the leading cause of loon deaths in the state and the bill would finish the work that began more than a decade ago when the state was the first to prohibit small lead tackle.
Loons digest lead when they eat smaller fish that have swallowed sinkers and jigs. The current law prohibits jigs smaller than an inch, but supporters say the standard should be weight not length to better protect loons.
"Loons are the de facto state bird," said Rep. David Kidder. "This is a bill about loons and lead kills loons. Lead kills a lot of things."
But opponents say there is no evidence the prohibition on lead sinkers and jigs will save the lives of any loons.
"Our anglers do not want Band-Aids not backed by evidence or by all the stakeholders," said Rep. Elisabeth Sanders, R-Danville. "Our constituents expect us to make the best possible decision based on the best possible information, not on our feelings."
The bill is similar to one last year the House sent to interim study hoping fishermen and conservationists with the help of Fish and Game Department officials could arrive at a compromise, but that did not happen as few meetings were held.
Opponents said the bill would hurt small businesses in the state at a time when the New Hampshire's loon population is growing, not decreasing.
Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, said only 5.3 loons die on average a year in the state. The problem he said are multi-million dollar homes being built on loon habitat and "eagles coming down and whacking the babies on the head."
Burt and others said the Fish and Game Department will not be able to enforce the ban and does not have the authority to stop the sale of tackle.
House Minority Leader Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, also opposed the bill.
"We need more study before we pass any measure as drastic as this bill. Our state's sportsmen and outdoor industry deserve as much."
Chandler said. "Last year's interim study committee concluded that more time was needed to thoroughly examine this issue and that no legislation should be introduced in 2013. Until we have a conclusive report, this legislation is premature."
But supporters said numerous studies have been done and they all conclude the same thing, lead kills loons. Lead has been removed from paint, gasoline and children's toys because it harms humans and also wildlife like loons and other birds.
Bill sponsor Rep. Benjamin Lefebvre, D-Grantham, said loons do not breed until there are six or seven years old and then usually produce only one chick a year. That is why the bill targets protecting adult loons, he said.
As a fisherman, Lefebvre said he knows there is a wide variety of non-lead tackle available at comparable prices and the three-year window will give both fishermen and retailers time to find alternative tackle.
The issue is not just about fishermen, he said, noting tourist come to the state to enjoy the state's natural environment including the loons.
The bill has to return to the Senate because of changes the House made. The House amended the bill to begin the prohibition June 1, 2016, a year later than the Senate version.