Updated September 2017
Banning soft plastic lures was first introduced in the Maine state legislature in 2013, based on a suggestion that fish were being harmed because soft plastic lures are 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, there is reason to believe legislative proposals to impose restrictions or a ban may reemerge.
In 2017, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and its members are 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.
ASA opposes the banning of soft plastic baits and lures because there is insufficient evidence to show that they harm fish populations. ASA sees the issue as a litter problem that can be solved, but not a significant threat to fish.
In January 2013, Maine state Representative Paul Davis introduced bills H.P.37/L.D.42 and H.P.38/L.D.43, which would have banned 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 the following month 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 3 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.
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. The results of the Maine study were presented to the state legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in January 2014.
The report concluded: “…the Department does not recommend any legislation at this time.” The Department acknowledged 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 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.
In October 2014 ASA’s Board of Directors adopted a motion to encourage all makers of soft plastic baits 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.
There are currently no proposals to ban fishing with soft plastic lures on the Maine state legislative agenda, but ASA continues to monitor the situation in case the issue reemerges.
Due to habit and a lack of conservation education efforts, some anglers tend to discard soft plastic baits in the water which then collect on the bottom of lakes and rivers.
Soft baits, or lures, are biodegradable, yet the process (as with any other plastic item) takes time. In Maine, this issue was considered serious enough that lawmakers wanted to ban the use of soft plastic baits because they believed that there was a toxicity level that would be harmful to the environment and the aquatic species that ingest them. Other states could come to the same conclusion and begin to explore a ban of their own.
At the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), we know that the material used for soft plastic baits is not at the core of the issue. There are many environmental factors that impact toxicity levels in lakes and streams other than soft plastic baits. ASA contends that what really exists is a litter and angler education problem and as the voice for the recreational fishing industry, we want to do something about that problem.
Americans are more conscious than ever before about properly disposing or recycling empty plastic containers. We need to extend this habit to the proper disposal of soft plastic baits. Legislation that would prohibit using soft plastic baits – without any attempt to change angler behavior – would be debilitating for manufacturers, retailers and anglers.
ASA developed a public awareness and education campaign – Pitch It! – to take this message to the national angling public and enact change.
Click here for more information about ASA’s Pitch It! campaign.