Group: N.H. Needs Lead Tackle Ban to Save Loons

Concord — Wildlife conservationists yesterday said their efforts to restore New Hampshire’s loon population are being undercut by lead fishing tackle that the water fowl mistakes for food then die of lead poisoning.

New Hampshire lists the loon as a threatened species, and was the first state to pass a partial ban on lead tackle in 1998.

But conservationists said at a news conference that New Hampshire law now lags behind Massachusetts, which has a more effective ban. Biologists and volunteers urged House members to pass a bill that would change the ban to base the restriction on tackle weight rather than size.

The state currently prohibits the use of lead-weighted hooks, known as jigs, that are 1 inch long or less. The bill would change the standard to ban jigs that weigh 1 ounce or less. The measure has passed the state Senate and is to go before the House Fish and Game Committee this month.

Grantham resident Sheridan Brown, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Loon Preservation Committee, said the proposed change is based on the type of tackle removed from loons that die from lead poisoning. Brown said 49 percent of adult loons die as a result of ingesting lead fishing tackle and half of those deaths are from tackle that is currently legal.

In addition, loons typically don’t breed for the first six years, making the loss of adults devastating to population growth.

Tom O’Brien of the New Hampshire Lakes Association said loons are a sign of the overall ecological health of a lake habitat.

Loons are found on a number of Upper Valley lakes and ponds, and all three state senators representing the Valley — Republicans Jeanie Forrester of Meredith and Bob Odell of Lempster and Democrat David Pierce of Hanover — are sponsors of the bill, as are state Reps. Ben Lefebvre, D-Grantham, and David Kidder, R-New London.

Biologist Harry Vogel, director of the loon committee, said using different tackle could dramatically aid the growth of the bird’s numbers, which he said is rising because of conservation efforts but is only half of its historic levels.

But Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, who said he wanted to provide another view and showed up at the press conference, said the ban would hurt local businesses and could potentially mean a loss for New Hampshire of bass fishing tournaments that draw competitors from around the country.

The tighter ban would go into effect in 2015 to give businesses time to sell their existing inventory of lead tackle banned under the proposal.

CORRECTION

This article has been corrected to amend an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Thursday, April 11 edition of the Valley News.

In an Associated Press story published in yesterday's Valley News about a proposal for a tighter ban on the use of lead fishing tackle to protect loons from ingesting it, it was reported that Maine has more restrictive regulations than New Hampshire. Maine is considering such regulations but has not enacted them.