CONCORD, N.H. – Lead fishing tackle continues to kill loons at an alarming rate, supporters of tighter restrictions on the gear told a House committee Thursday, 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.
A bill proposed last month in Maine would ban the use and sales of lead sinkers weighing 1 ounce or less and lead-headed jigs 2½ inches long 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, R-Bedford.
Brown countered that the ban would be phased in over two years allowing businesses and fishermen time to switch to nontoxic tackle.
But enforcing the ban would also be difficult, Sanborn said.
Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, whose department is charged with enforcing the existing ban, said that if the bill passes and lead continues to kill loons, his department will get the blame regardless of their efforts.
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.