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Fish and Wildlife Issues Related to the Use of Lead Fishing Gear

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Health

Date Published: December 2006

Number of Pages: 41

Publication Number: FPT 06-13

Author(s): Patricia Michael


There is growing concern about the amount of lead that is deposited into our environment by various means. Federal laws have addressed what appear to be the most common pathways. The manufacture of paint with high levels of lead was banned in 1978, and leaded gasoline was banned in the mid-1980s. But problems persist, and a recent New York Times article (January 17, 2006) states that about 25% of our nation’s children are still exposed to lead in their homes and more than 400,000 each year are found to have amounts of lead in their bodies that are hazardous to normal mental and physical development. Workers in the metals trades are still at risk – as recently as 1998, over 320,000 workers in the U.S. were exposed to lead (Needleman, 2004). Another more recent area of concern is the lead deposited into the environment from hunters and fishers in the form of lead shot and lead fishing tackle.

This paper looks at the possible environmental effects of this metal, focusing on lost fishing tackle. Although many different species of birds, reptiles, and small mammals are known to have died from ingesting lead, studies have shown that birds are very susceptible to lead poisoning because the grinding action of their gizzards releases the toxic metal directly into their bloodstream. Loons are the birds most likely to ingest lead fishing tackle, and one lead sinker or lead jig can kill a loon. Several countries have enacted laws banning or limiting the use of lead fishing tackle. Several U.S. states also have passed laws, often based limiting the use of small lead sinkers or jigs that are more likely to be swallowed.