Ohio BHA's Policy & Advocacy Committee hopes you follow our journey as we learn about the impacts of lead in hunting and angling, confront our own misconceptions about the subject, and consider voluntary and incremental adoptions of non-lead alternatives as we seek to become better stewards of our public lands and waters and encourage additional research and continued education and communication.
As anglers we have an innate connection to rivers, streams, lakes and the larger biotic community that provides those indescribable experiences of mingling our lives with fish for even a short period of time. Through those connections, we often develop a special sense of duty to preserve, protect, and look after the waters we hold dear. Many of us seek to reduce our impact on the environment while angling, but the reality is that sometimes there are unavoidable consequences in snagged lines, lost lures, broken logs and turned over rocks. However, there are steps that we can take to reduce our individual impacts and we can start right at the checkout counter. In recent years, there has been a call for the switch from lead to non-lead fishing tackle with the common loon being the posterchild for the movement. The truth is that some of the birds we enjoy seeing while on the water do occasionally ingest lead sinkers mistaking them for pebbles to be used in their gizzards. This mistaken identity problem can have deadly consequences for wildlife. Taking the initiative as anglers to continue our education on this issue is essential to maintaining our conservation heritage. In doing so, we stand to improve our perception within the broader outdoor community and ultimately improving the overall condition of the environments we enjoy.
It is no secret that the angling world is filled with advertisements pushing the latest fishing lures to help you catch the biggest fish in the lake. The clutter of advertisements and options results in a difficult decision – what bait, fly, or lure should I use? Sorting through the many different options can be difficult by itself, let alone considering the impacts you may have beyond the cast. The disproportionate availability of lead options over non-lead can be staggering and frustrating. The sheer volume of lead sinkers purchased by anglers can be just as staggering - 4,000 tons of lead sinkers are purchased each year in the United States according to a study conducted by Dwayne Elmore, Kevin Allen, and Don Wolfe at Oklahoma State.
To be frank, outside of a few select organizations, the conservation movement has not been as culturally engrained in angling as it has been in hunting. The time has come to take a closer look at this. With fishing’s popularity enjoying a resurgence during the pandemic, we have an opportunity to learn about the effects of lead-based tackle alongside others that are new to the time-honored tradition. As we seek to become more responsible sportsmen and women, we realize that our journeys are a marathon not a sprint. We do not need to do a wholesale changeover of our complete tackle system tomorrow, but a few simple informed decisions today can influence buying decisions next time we head to the tackle shop. After a few years, we’ll be pleasantly surprised by how different our tackle boxes look. Manufacturers of fishing tackle have produced numerous non-lead alternatives that are currently available including steel, bismuth, tungsten, granite and tin. While the alternatives are often more expensive, incremental change to avoid the negative impacts of incidental lead contamination in the environment is well worth the extra investment.
For more information on voluntary programs, we encourage you to connect with the North American Non-Lead Partnership and don’t hesitate to engage with your state wildlife management agencies. They too need our support in navigating these sometimes-contentious issues. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency keeps a list of retailers selling non-lead alternatives at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/living-green/manufacturers-nonlead-tackle. You can also visit Google Scholar or other academic search engines to read peer-reviewed studies and explore the issue for yourself. The bottom line is that we owe it to ourselves, and those that follow us to make informed decisions.