There’s nothing more iconic than the haunting call of a Common Loon. But loons are way more than just icons. The loon’s dependence on clear, clean water and healthy fish populations makes it an important biological indicator, and long-term studies have shown that lead poisoning from the ingestion of lead fishing tackle is one of the leading causes of death among adult loons in Maine.
The good news? These deaths are preventable. Remove the lead tackle, reduce the danger. Legislation, educational efforts, and proactive lead tackle exchange programs have worked to reduce the occurrence of lead poisoning in loons and other fish-eating birds. Current Maine state law bans the use and sale of lead sinkers and bare lead-headed jigs weighing one ounce or less or measuring two and a half inches or less.
Despite these efforts, lead still accounts for almost one in five adult loon deaths. So this spring, Maine Audubon and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) launched a lead tackle buyback program. Beginning in April, participating retailers provided $10 store vouchers to anglers who turned in at least one ounce of lead tackle at participating stores. The vouchers can be redeemed towards the purchase of non-lead tackle at these same retailers. Funding provided by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, The Maine Sportsman and magazine publisher Will Lund, will allow the distribution of up to 350 vouchers now through December of 2021.
Many thanks to the three retailers who are the first to participate: Dag’s Bait Shop in Auburn, Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville, and BackWoods Bait and Tackle in Chesterville. The hope is to add more to the list. Retailers can also hold one-time events and this proved to be extremely successful at Kittery Trading Post’s Septemberfest. The store collected 41 pounds of lead tackle and issued 71 vouchers. Considering each individual was only required to turn in a minimum of an ounce (thus 71 ounces or 4.4 lbs), this event really helped to Get the Lead Out!
In addition to the lead tackle buyback program, MDIFW is continuing to investigate the occurrence of lead poisoning in loons by collecting dead loons and conducting necropsies to determine the cause of death, and plan to continue necropsies through 2022. The agency hopes that lead poisoning will continue to decrease over time as less and less lead is being used by anglers.
You can help us understand and reduce lead poisoning in loons by:
· Turning in your lead tackle to a participating retailer. Check fishleadfree.org/me for the most recent list of participating retailers, as well as a list of retailers who sell lead-free alternatives and check with these retailers to be sure they are open for business.
· Making sure you and your friends know the law: the use and sale of lead sinkers and bare lead-headed jigs weighing one ounce or less or measuring two and a half inches or less is prohibited.
· Reporting any dead loons found or loons that seem to be in distress to MDIFW or Maine Audubon.
This project was funded by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, State Wildlife Grants, Maine Birder Band funds, and The Maine Sportsman and magazine publisher Will Lund.