Mortality in some waterfowl species, notably the common loon, has been linked to ingestion of lead fishing tackle and has prompted the imposition of bans on the sale and/or use of lead fishing tackle in several states and on National Park Service lands. There is also an ongoing push from conservation groups to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose a federal ban on all lead fishing tackle.
The American Sportfishing Association (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 ten to 20 times more than lead products. Non-lead products may not be as 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.
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.
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 the 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 are currently challenging this decision in court. On November 16, 2011, the petitioners submitted a new similar petition. This most recent petition was also rejected by the agency.
The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Sports Protection Act
The recent increase in anti-fishing efforts to ban lead fishing tackle demonstrates the need to legislatively protect one of our nation’s greatest pastimes from unwarranted and burdensome regulation.
On April 14, 2011, the Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Sports Protection Act (S. 838 and H.R. 1558) was introduced into both chambers of Congress by the chairs of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus - Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD) and Representatives Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Mike Ross (D-AR). This legislation 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. The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Sports Protection Act will put an end to attempts to overregulate the recreational fishing and hunting industries and protect the rights of anglers and hunters who choose to sustainably enjoy their sports.
The Hunting Fishing and Recreational Shooting Sports Protection Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives as a part of a broader package of sportsmen’s legislation. ASA is working with the U.S. Senate and its conservation partners to quickly pass this legislation and put an end to unjustified efforts to ban lead in 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 some other states and federal agencies are currently considering bans. Here is a current list of current and proposed bans on lead fishing tackle:
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.