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N.H. House considers lead tackle rules

Lead fishing tackle continues to kill loons at an alarming rate, supporters of tighter restrictions on the gear told a House committee yesterday, but opponents warned that such a move would make most fishermen’s equipment obsolete and hurt the state’s lucrative tourism industry.

The state prohibits the use of lead-weighted hooks known as jigs that are 1 inch long or less. The bill would change the standard to ban jigs that weigh 1 ounce or less.

Though the state’s loon population is growing, about half of adult loon deaths are from ingesting lead fishing tackle, and half of those deaths are from tackle that is legal, said Sheridan Brown, a spokesman for the Loon Preservation Committee. Loons typically don’t breed for the first six years, making the loss of adults harmful to population growth.

“We’re not saying don’t fish. We’re saying don’t fish with lead,” said Harry Vogel, a senior biologist with the preservation group.

But changing tackle would be prohibitively expensive for many fishermen, said Rep. Laurie Sanborn, a Bedford Republican.

Brown countered that the ban would be phased in over two years allowing businesses and fishermen time to switch to nontoxic tackle.

However, enforcing the ban would also be difficult, Sanborn said.

And Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, whose department is charged with enforcing the existing ban, said that if the bill passes and loons continue to die of lead poisoning, his department will get the blame regardless of their efforts.

Education efforts by the Loon Preservation Committee and others won’t get all lead out of the water so tighter regulations are a crucial backstop to ensure the loon population is sustained in New Hampshire, Vogel said.

The tighter ban before the House has passed the Senate twice but died in the lower chamber last year. The Fish, Game and Marine Resources Committee will make its recommendation before it goes to a full vote in the House.

I have been fishing (and hunting) my entire life, and have gotten the lead out of my fresh water fishing gear. Why take the chance of poisoning more birds? Fisherman (and politicians) who believe that education alone will solve this problem are being disingenuous. After all, leaders of some of the state's bass fishing organizations who oppose broadening the law have attended the House and Senate hearings, listened to hours of testimony from expert witnesses on how loons are dying and remain in denial even though the science is clear. Their position indicates that education will be effective in changing behavior without a concurrent ban on the sale and use of lead.

Why do the loons eat lead? Is it tasty?

Loons eat their prey whole, and do not cast pellets of the indigestible materials. Their glandular stomach starts dissolving the fish, which then passes into their muscular stomach (the gizzard). Powerful muscles, aided by small pieces of grit, grind and liquify the scales and bones like mother nature's blender. To make the gizzard work, loons pick up and swallow small stones and grit from the bottom of their lake. Because lead sinkers look exactly like small stones, loons sometimes pick them up as well. Like the stones loons swallow, lead sinkers remain in the gizzard. The sinkers eventually get ground down and dissolve.

Thanks Hunter_Dan.

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