Lead in Fishing Tackle

Lead in Fishing Tackle

Lead is a common component in numerous types of fishing equipment; however, it has come under increasing scrutiny by the environmental community. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has been heavily involved in educating lawmakers and the public about the production of fishing tackle that contains lead and the potential negative impacts on fishing participation and the economy that unwarranted bans on lead fishing tackle would have.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has consistently rejected petitions to ban lead and the appropriations process is a tactical way to stop potential bans, a permanent fix is needed. Legislation introduced in the House and Senate may be the long-tern fix that is necessary.

The House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies separately passed annual budget bills for the 2017 fiscal year that both include a provision to exempt the EPA from using funds to regulate fishing tackle.

ASA is working with both chambers of Congress and its conservation partners to quickly pass legislation to exempt fishing tackle from regulation permanently under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S. 225), originally sponsored by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and its companion legislation in the House – the SHARE Act (H.R. 2406) – introduced by Rep. Rob Wittman have language to accomplish this. In February 2016, the House’s SHARE Act passed, and the Senate passed several provisions of its bipartisan bill as part of a comprehensive Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012).

Our Position

ASA reviewed the existing science on the effects of lead on waterfowl populations to ensure further regulatory action is based upon the best available information. Click here to read ASA’s review of the issue.

Based on this review, ASA found that insufficient data exists to warrant state or federal bans on lead fishing tackle. Further, the loon populations in the U.S. and Canada are stable and increasing throughout the majority of their range. In general, loon populations, as well as other waterfowl species, are subject to much more substantial threats such as habitat loss through shoreline development, disease, water quality issues and predators.

Depending on the alternative metal and current prevailing raw material costs, non-lead fishing tackle products can cost from 10 to 20 times more than lead products. Non-lead products may not be available and most do not perform as well. Mandatory transitioning to non-lead fishing tackle would require significant and costly changes from both the industry and anglers.

ASA acknowledges that lead toxicosis can kill water birds and lead fishing tackle may contribute to this mortality. ASA recommends that before further laws are enacted to restrict lead fishing tackle on a state or national basis, sufficient data must exist to demonstrate that discarded lead tackle is an actual threat to the sustainability of loon or other waterbird populations. ASA realizes that certain waters may be “hot spots” for ingestion of fishing tackle by waterbirds and encourages any restrictions of lead fishing tackle in those waters to be based on sound science that supports the appropriate action for that water body. When deemed necessary and scientifically justified, decisions to control the manufacturing and use of lead tackle should take place at the state level and originate from the agency managing natural resources in that jurisdiction.

Furthermore, ASA continues to encourage and support voluntary angler education programs for the responsible use and proper disposal of lead fishing tackle and urges state and federal fish and wildlife agencies to do the same.

Issue Background

Efforts to Federally Ban Lead Fishing Tackle
On August 23, 2010, the EPA was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and four other organizations to ban all lead in fishing tackle and ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This included sinkers, jigs, weighted fly line, and components that contain lead such as brass and ballast in a wide variety of lures, including spinners, stick baits and more. Four days later, the EPA denied the petition for ammunition because it is exempted under TSCA. That November, the EPA rejected the petition to ban lead in all fishing tackle. Opposition from anglers was strong; over 43,000 anglers sent comments requesting dismissal of the petition to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson through KeepAmericaFishing®.

In dismissing the petition, the EPA indicated that the “petitioners have not demonstrated that the requested rule is necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, as required by the TSCA.” The EPA also cited state-specific actions and the increasing education and outreach activities being undertaken, stating that those actions “…call into question whether a national ban on lead in fishing gear would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach to address the concern, as called for under TSCA.”

Despite the EPA’s findings that a national ban is scientifically unjustified and outside the agency’s jurisdiction, the petitioners continually challenged this decision in court. On November 16, 2011, the petitioners submitted a new similar petition, which was also rejected by the agency.

In 2014, a provision to prohibit federal funds from being used to regulate lead fishing tackle and ammunition under TSCA was included in the end-of-year federal spending bill. This provision has also been included in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill. After passing the House on June 26, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and approved the FY 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that includes a provision that blocks the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition and fishing tackle. The bill was bundled into the omnibus spending package, which was approved by Congress and then signed by the President on December 18, 2015.

Again this year, Congress is poised to pass a bill to exempt the EPA from using funds to regulate fishing tackle for the 2017 fiscal year. The House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies separately passed annual budget bills containing language to protect recreational fishing equipment from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act. In March, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus co-chairs Reps Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Gene Green (D-Texas) sent a letter urging the committee to pass this provision to avoid unnecessary and economically harmful regulations.

The temporary legislative fix provided in the federal spending bill supports and reinforces the EPA’s previous decisions and will aid ASA in its efforts toward a permanent solution. While the EPA has consistently rejected petitions to regulate lead fishing tackle, a permanent fix is needed to prevent an unnecessary ban from being federally imposed.

The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Sports Protection Act
On January 21, 2015, the Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S. 225) was introduced by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Rep. Wittman in the House introduced companion legislation– the SHARE Act (H.R. 2406) – in May 2015. Similar bills have been considered in two previous sessions of Congress, the most recent being bipartisan legislation – H.R. 322 – introduced on January 18, 2013, by Representative Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), which had 94 co-sponsors. Much like last session’s version of the bill, S. 225 will prevent a federal ban on lead in recreational fishing tackle by clarifying the TSCA exemption for ammunition and establishing a similar exemption for fishing tackle.

In February 2016, the SHARE Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 242-161. Passage of H.R. 2406 represents another major milestone for the recreational fishing community. The SHARE Act, also known as the Sportsmen’s Act, contains numerous provisions to improve public access to federal lands and guard against new regulations that threaten to limit access to fishing and hunting. The U.S. Senate also passed several provisions found in the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015. By a vote of 85-12, the Senate approved amendment #3234 as part of a comprehensive Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which authorizes the National Fish Habitat Partnership program and requires certain public lands to be open for recreational fishing and hunting unless specifically closed through an open and public process. With versions of the Sportsmen’s Act having now passed both chambers, the recreational fishing community turns its full attention to a conference bill.

Current and Proposed State Bans on Lead Fishing Tackle
In addition to ongoing attempts to impose a national ban on lead fishing tackle, several states and federal agencies have already implemented bans on lead fishing tackle and others are considering it.

  • In September 2014, the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) released its draft 2015-17 Priority Product Work Plan. Along with six other categories, the Plan identified lead, zinc and copper fishing weights and gear as a product of concern. This effort could lead to a ban on the manufacturing, distribution and sale of popular fishing equipment that contains lead, such as sinkers, jigs and lures.There were two public workshops held in September 2014, and the Work Plan was finalized in early 2015. Of note, the DTSC was unable to provide research to validate its decision and the Department of Fish and Wildlife has had no role in the regulation process. In a separate effort, the State of California, pursuant to Proposition 65 passed in 1986, is attempting to block the production of lead consumer goods. Click here for more on Prop 65.

Three groups came together to oppose California’s effort to ban lead fishing tackle in yet another phase of the state’s scoping process for new regulations. ASA, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and the Center for Coastal Conservation-California submitted joint comments to the Department of Toxic Substances Control in response to its Draft Stage 1 Alternatives Analysis (AA). The AA would require manufacturers of fishing equipment containing lead to evaluate switching to other raw materials. In its letter, the sportfishing community describes the legal hurdles and financial challenges that would be imposed on small businesses if the ban and AA requirements are put into place.

  • Connecticut introduced legislation in 2011 to ban all lead sinkers and jigs under S.B. 59. However, after a public hearing on the issue and angler advocate response, the Environment Committee did not vote prior to the committee's deadline on March 25, 2011, rendering it dead.
  • Maine passed legislation in 2001 (effective January 1, 2002) to ban the sales of lead sinker ½ ounce or less.  In June of 2013 Maine passed legislation, which bans the sale, use and advertisement of lead sinkers one ounce or less, or measures 2 ½ inches or less; violations to this bill would be a civil violation carrying a fine for each violation of between $100 – $500.
  • The Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife enacted an administrative rule that prohibits the use of lead fishing sinkers and jigs less than 1 ounce in all inland waters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (effective January 1, 2012).
  • New Hampshire was the first state to ban the use of lead sinkers. Legislation to do so was passed in 1998 (effective in 2000). The legislation prohibits the use of lead sinkers in lakes and ponds up to one ounce and lead jigs up to one inch in length. The state later expanded the legislation to include all waters of the state. New Hampshire Legislature did not complete the 2012 Interim Study, but instead in 2013 passed more restrictive legislation which banned the use of any lead jig weighing one ounce or less. The 2013 law is written so that the ban includes all sinkers and jigs regardless of their coating or attached skirts.
  • New York passed legislation in 2002 (effective May 2004) that bans the sale of lead sinkers to the end user.
  • Vermont passed legislation prohibiting the sale (effective January 1, 2006) and use (effective January 1, 2007) of lead fishing sinkers ½ ounce or less. The state implemented a lead sinker education program beginning July 1, 2004.
  • The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission implemented a regulation that prohibits the use of lead fishing weights and jigs that measure 1 ½ inches or less along the longest axis at 12 lakes in May 2011. The Commission also banned the use of flies containing lead at Long Lake in Ferry County. In January 2012, the state legislature considered a statewide ban of certain lead fishing tackle, but abandoned legislation due to large public opposition.
  • The National Park Service (NPS), on March 10, 2009, announced its intention to ban ammunition and fishing tackle with lead components in national parks by 2010. Park Service officials have since stated the ban will apply only to NPS internal operations. In addition, vendors on NPS properties have been directed to no longer purchase and restock recreational fishing products with lead when current inventories are gone.
  • In addition, Canada’s federal government banned the use of lead fishing sinkers less than 50 grams in national parks and wildlife areas in 1997. The same year, Great Britain banned sinkers under one ounce.