AUGUSTA – A former head of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine told lawmakers Thursday that fishermen should stop using lead sinkers and jigs that harm loons.

“We’re fishing with toxic waste,” said George Smith of Mount Vernon. “It’s time to get the lead out of our tackle boxes, our lakes, our ponds and our loons.”

Smith, a Kennebec Journal columnist who led the sportsman’s group for 17 years, was one of many people who told the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee that they support L.D. 730, which would ban the use and sales of lead sinkers weighing 1 ounce or less and lead-headed jigs 2½ inches long or less.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, proposes fines of $100 to $500 for violations.

Supporters say the bill is necessary because lead is the leading cause of death in adult loons and is estimated to be responsible for one-third of all loons’ deaths.

Opponents say the bill is unnecessary because the loon population is strong and it would cost fishermen too much to replace their gear.

Dave Barnes Sr., president of the Bass Federation of Maine, said tungsten, an alternative to lead, costs $2.66 per weight while lead sinkers cost 13 cents each.

“This bill is no more than an anti-fishing bill,” he said. “The only people who will be able to fish will be rich.”

Ray Boies, secretary of Maine BASS Nation, said most fishermen love loons and respect their habitat.

“Jigs are expensive,” he said. “We’re not going to leave them in the water.”

Loons ingest lead when they catch fish with sinkers or jigs attached, when the gravel they eat to aid their digestion contains sinkers or jigs, or when they take them off fishermen’s lines, said Mark Pokras, an associate professor of wildlife medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

He said dead loons from Maine and several other states are shipped to his laboratory, where examinations are done to determine how they died. “Lead is the primary culprit,” he said. “This is a relatively easy fix.”

Haskell, the bill’s sponsor, said she and her husband have a lake house in Raymond. “Most of all, when you sleep at camp, you know the sound of that loon at dusk,” she said. “It’s not something that can be replicated.”

David Trahan, the current director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the group supports the bill’s intention, but he raised several questions in his testimony.

He asked whether there are enough alternatives to lead jigs and sinkers, and what would happen if a game warden found lead sinkers in a tackle box that were not being used.

Trahan, a former state senator, recommended a three- to five-year phase-in with an educational component and a trade-in program.

He said Maine attracts bass fishermen from across the country, and questioned whether the new lead restrictions would keep people away. “Will we lose the significant resources that come with them?”

Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association said his group supports the bill but he hopes that lawmakers add a phase-in period to give anglers enough time to replace their lead gear.

 

Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643

scover@mainetoday.com