Banning soft plastic lures was first introduced in the Maine state legislature in 2013, suggesting that fish were being harmed because they are carelessly discarded in or near the water and end up as litter. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) studied the effect of soft plastic baits and lures on fish and concluded that a ban is not warranted. This recommendation was adopted by the state’s legislature. Despite evidence pointing to the harmlessness of soft baits, legislative proposals to impose restrictions or a ban may reemerge.
Currently the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is said to be conducting a study with the University of Maine on the toxicity of soft baits. The date of release for the final toxicity report is not publically available.
In 2016, the industry is continuing efforts to partner with local and national organizations and the DIFW to improve angler stewardship behavior and encourage proper disposal and recycling of fishing gear. ASA is staying vigilant of activity in the state legislature that would place restrictions on soft plastic lures.
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is against the banning of soft plastic baits and lures with the backing of economic, ecological and social arguments. Industry research has indicated minimal problems for the several species of fish that have been tested in multiple trials. The research indicates that the fish either regurgitate or pass soft baits without problem. There is a wide variety of types, sizes and shapes of soft baits and we are not aware of these causing problems, even in laboratory experiments. ASA is not aware of any study in the wild showing a detrimental impact on fish populations.
ASA has proactively created an angler education program, Pledge to Pitch It!, to help educate anglers about proper disposal of soft plastic baits. Through Pledge to Pitch It!, anglers commit not to throw their soft plastic lures into the water but to discard their used and worn lures into the garbage or to use a local recycling program. Thousands of anglers have signed the petition.
In May 2013, the resolve to study the effects of soft baits and biodegradable hooks in the state of Maine became law without the Governor’s signature. This resolve ordered the DIFW to study the effects of soft baits and non-degradable hooks on fish and other wildlife in the state. During ASA’s Government Affairs meeting in October 2013, the committee voted to create a working group made up of members from the leading soft bait manufacturers in the industry. This working group provided direction to the DIFW. The results of the Maine study were presented to the state legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on January 28, 2014.
The report concluded: “…the Department does not recommend any legislation at this time.” The Department admitted during testimony that the largest problem with soft baits was that they were a litter problem in Maine waters. The individual anglers, fishing club representatives and retail fishing tackle dealers attending the hearing were pleased with the recommendation to take no legislative action.
However, the Department did make a number of recommendations to enhance its angler education programs by involving anglers, angler organizations and the sportfishing industry. These enhancements are intended to minimize the loss and improve the proper disposal of soft baits in state waters by anglers. The 47-page report described the Department’s findings and methods. From a scientific point-of-view, overall, the report indicated a low rate of soft baits found in the digestive system of fish surveyed between 1985 and 2013, ranging from a low of 0.4 percent to a high of 5.2 percent of fish sampled, depending on the survey method.
State Legislative Action
On January 17, 2013, state Representative Paul Davis introduced bills H.P.37/L.D.42 and H.P.38/L.D.43, which would ban the use of all “rubber” lures and another bill to ban all non-degradable fishing hooks. The Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife held a public meeting in the beginning of February regarding both bills. During this first public meeting three individuals spoke in favor of the soft baits ban while the remaining speakers spoke for almost three hours against the bill.
It was brought to the Committee’s attention that one problem with soft baits was that anglers were tossing their used baits overboard, creating a littler problem. One observation was that during a 200 yard stretch of lake-bottom there would be a dozen or more baits. Another observation was that fish have been known to swallow these soft baits, and when anglers cut their caught fish open they would find them.
ASA is not aware of any study in the wild showing a detrimental impact on fish populations. In fact, based on years of laboratory tests on soft baits, most fish regurgitate or pass these baits without harm.
Maine has a rich angling history and the sport has significant, positive economic impacts on the state. Anglers in Maine generate $6.2 million of economic activity each year, supporting 6,723 Maine jobs. Recreational fishing in Maine also provides $43 million in state and local tax revenue. Forty-four percent of Maine’s angling days are done by non-resident anglers, and this ban would affect not only bait and tackle shops but also all tourism businesses. Banning either soft baits or non-degradable hooks would negatively affect both state and local economies, as well as the tourism that fishing brings to Maine.
At ASA’s Board of Directors meeting in October of 2014, the Board adopted the motion to encourage all makers of soft plastics to provide a message on their packaging about proper disposal and to implement broader education for manufacturers and the public. ASA has been carrying out this directive via its angler advocacy program, Keep America Fishing and the Pledge to Pitch It! campaign.
Currently the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is said to be conducting a study with the University of Maine on the toxicity of soft baits. The date of release for the final toxicity report is not publically known.