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Water: Fish & Shellfish

Lead Fishing

Sinkers and Animals

loonDid you know that some waterbirds can die because of lead poisoning from fishing sinkers?

In freshwater environments where fishing is popular, several species of waterbirds are vulnerable to lead poisoning from the accidental ingestion of lead fishing sinkers. Species of special concern include those that feed in shallow waters, such as bay diving ducks, surface feeding ducks, sea ducks, wading birds (cranes, herons, bitterns, and egrets) and shoreline feeders (geese and brants).

How can animals get lead in their body?

Birds that feed in shallow shoreline areas swallow pebbles and gravel to help them grind up and digest food. Lead sinkers, especially small split shots, may be mistaken for gravel, and accidentally swallowed. Waterbirds, especially deep-diving birds such as loons, may also swallow sinkers when eating fish with attached lead fishing tackle.

What are the effects of lead poisoning on animals?

  • Lead poisoned birds may lose their ability to walk or fly, experience severe weight loss, and eventually die.
  • Lead poisoning is often called “the invisible disease because it is so difficult to notice. Lead poisoning is not likely to cause large, visible die-offs, like when birds contract diseases or fish die from a chemical or oil spill. Instead, birds are poisoned one at a time and their disease or death often goes unnoticed. When a lead poisoned bird dies, its body may not be discovered or it may be eaten by other animals.

What can you do to help protect waterbirds?

Consider purchasing non-lead alternatives. Sinkers, including split shot, are now available in less toxic compounds such as tin, steel, bismuth, and tungsten. Ask your local tackle shop or retailer to carry non-lead alternatives.

Other steps you can take to protect yourself and your watershed:

  Always clean up your fishing spot–pick up or retrieve dropped or tangled sinkers or jigs.
  Bring along a trash bag–plastic bags, six-pack soda rings, cigarette butts and other kinds of debris can kill wildlife.
  Practice safe and environmentally friendly boating habits–wear a life preserver when fishing from a boat and be sure to obey all state and local rules. Never exceed the speed limit and be sure to slow down near nesting areas and fragile shorelines. Keep your boat engine tuned up and immediately clean up any fuel spills.
  If your marina does not already have a pumpout station, work with your community to get one installed.
  Use all chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers sparingly and according to package directions. Never dump on the ground, in the trash or down a storm drain!
  Get involved in local efforts to protect your watershed. A good fishery depends on clean water!

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