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One lead sinker kills a loon, so ‘Get the Lead Out’

“Get the Lead Out” encourages anglers to switch to lead-free tackle. The program provides a 35% rebate to bait and tackle shops on purchases of lead-free tackle. The maximum award is $2,000 total per retail establishment.

A baby common loon chick takes ride on the back of its parent in
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Members of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) are cleaning out their fishing tackle boxes and turning in their lead tackle.

They received lead-free samples in return at a recent COLA meeting. And the lead tackle went into the county’s hazardous waste collection site.

Their efforts – and those of all anglers and bait shops in Hubbard County – protect the loon.

Kelly Amoth, “Get the Lead Out” program coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), recently spoke to COLA about the importance of switching to lead-free tackle.

GetLeadOutLogo.jpg
Contributed/Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

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Lead poisons loons

“Minnesotans have really strong connections with loons,” noted Amoth. “Loons are very long-lived. You know that if you have loons on your lake, it’s the same ones. They come back every year.”

Yet one in five loons die a slow and painful death from lead poisoning.

All it takes is one lead split shot sinker to kill a loon.

“Lead has been removed from many consumer products – from paint to gasoline. As a country, we’re working to remove old lead pipes and protect our drinking water. But the two main consumer products with lead are ammunition and fishing tackle,” Amoth said.

Loons primary food source is fish, so they consume lead tackle that is attached or inside the fish.

They also have an amazing ability to dive – up to 150 feet. As they scoop up pebbles to aid in their digestion, they also swallow lead sinkers that were lost and sank to the bottom of the lake.

“Lost lead tackle is pollution. It’s not going anywhere, whether it was lost in the lake yesterday or 40, 50 years ago. It’s still there. It’s not going to break down and pose a risk to our loons,” Amoth said.

MPCALoonXRay.jpg
This X-ray was taken of a loon that perished from the lead tackle that it consumed. One lead sinker is fatal to loons.
Contributed/Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

The current national estimate is that 20-25% of loons perish from lead poisoning, she continued.

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Once the lead enters the loon’s blood stream, it cannot swim or fly. It usually dies after two to three weeks, Amoth said.

Lead also poisons eagles, trumpeter swans, and even some mammals as well, according to the MPCA.

Rebate program for bait shops

Amoth reported the MPCA sent 400 letters to bait and tackle shops statewide – but only received three applications for its rebate program.

This program provides a 35% rebate on purchases of lead-free tackle. The maximum award is $2,000 total per retail establishment.

Applications for a rebate will be accepted on a rolling, first-come, first-served basis until all dedicated funds ($100,000) have been dispersed or 4 p.m. Friday, March 29, 2024, whichever occurs first.

The short application can be found at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/lead-free-fishing-tackle-rebate-program.

What you can do

  • Find lead-free fishing tackle.
  • Don't throw old fishing gear into the water or shore. 
  • Properly dispose of unwanted lead tackle.
  • Don't put a lead sinker in your mouth. Use pliers to attach sinkers to your fishing line. 
  • Wash your hands after handling lead sinkers or cleaning out your tackle box. 
  • Spread the word. Tell your friends about the problem. Encourage them to switch to lead-free sinkers and jigs. 
  • Ask your favorite retailers to stock lead-free fishing tackle.

Alternatives to lead

  • tin
  • bismuth
  • steel
  • glass
  • tungsten
  • stone
  • metal composite
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