Ecological Services
Northeast Region
Regional Issue: Lead Tackle

The deadly link between lead fishing tackle and birds

The Problem and Effects:
Every year, loons and other waterbirds die from ingestion of lead fishing tackle. Confirmed and suspected lead toxicosis accounted for 52 percent of breeding adult loon mortality in New England between 1987 and 2000, according to an article published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases in 2003. Human-induced causes, compounded by other factors including habitat encroachment, are the most significant determinants of adult loon mortality in New England.

What We're Doing:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's New England Field Office has worked since 1994 with the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and numerous non-governmental organizations throughout New England to document causes of loon mortality.

The Service funded three special studies off national wildlife refuges to examine the effects of environmental contaminants, more specifically lead and mercury, on loon populations in the Northeast. The office helped found the Northeast Loon Study Workgroup, a consortium of federal and state agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations from New England states and eastern Canadian provinces created as a result of widespread concerns about the health of loons in the northeast. The workgroup coordinates cooperative research and other actions on issues beyond the scope of any one of its member organizations.

The Service's field office, in collaboration with the other members of the workgroup, has provided data documenting loon mortality to the various state legislatures. As a result, each state in the Northeast within breeding loons has enacted some limit on the use of lead fishing tackle, either through a change in the law or through administrative rule.

The office has produced a flier explaining the problem of lead fishing tackle that has been used by many organizations in the Northeast, and staff have participated in numerous lead sinker exchange efforts.

For more information, see the following handout on lead poisoning (PDF) and on lead tackle (PDF).

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Last updated: July 16, 2015