S. Fish and Wildlife Service News Release

April 13, 1999                            Eric Eckl  202-208-5636


In a move to reduce the number of common loons dying of lead poisoning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is seeking comments through May 13, 1999, on a plan to establish lead-free fishing areas on selected national wildlife refuges. Once a 2-year phase-in period is complete, anglers wishing to fish in lead-free fishing areas would be required to use sinkers and jigs made out of non-toxic substances.

"Despite their name, common loons are not that common," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark, "and we know that in some areas, common loons are dying of lead poisoning after swallowing lost fishing sinkers and jigs."

Common loon populations, found mostly in New England and around the Great Lakes, are not robust. The species is listed as threatened or endangered by several states and, in some localized areas, lead poisoning from fishing sinkers and jigs is documented to be the cause of death for more than half of all recovered loons. Common loons pick up lost sinkers and jigs along with the small stones and grit they swallow to aid with digestion. Even a single sinker may be enough to cause death by lead poisoning and birds that survive the initial dose have difficulty flying, feeding, and mating.

"We expect the number of anglers fishing on refuges to grow, so this step is necessary to continue to provide both opportunities to fish and secure habitat for the loons," Clark said. "Anglers will have plenty of notice and switching to non-toxic sinkers and jigs should not place a large burden on those who want to fish in lead-free fishing areas."

More than half of the Nation's 500+ refuges are open to anglers and the Service estimates that there were more than 5 million fishing visits to national wildlife refuges in 1997. The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, passed in 1997, designated angling as a priority use of the system and authorized new money to improve angler access to the water and open more refuges for recreational fishing.

Under the current plan, all national wildlife refuges will be asked to document waters frequently used by recreational anglers as well as habitat used by common loons. Those areas where the two overlap will be designated "lead-free fishing areas." The Service anticipates that most refuges will not be affected.

Lead-free fishing areas would be phased in during a 2-year period. During the first year, the refuge would alert anglers to the impending lead-free fishing area and educate anglers about the benefits of non-toxic sinkers and jigs for wildlife. During the second year, refuges with lead-free fishing areas would also offer anglers the opportunity to trade in their lead sinkers and jigs for non-toxic substitutes. After the second full year, the use of lead sinkers and jigs in lead-free fishing areas would be prohibited.

Substitutes for lead sinkers are increasingly available, such as split-shot made of tin and sinkers made of stainless steel, bismuth, tungsten-plastic, recycled glass, and ceramics. Several major retail stores carry non-toxic sinkers and jigs and some mail-order fishing tackle companies offer a wide selection of lead alternatives.

The public has until May 13, 1999, to provide written comments to Jon Kauffeld, Division of Refuges, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203; FAX: 703-358-1826; or e-mail .

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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Keywords: lead sinkers, common loons, fishing, National Wildlife Refuge System