No need to regulate plastic lures, researcher affirms

Urbana, Ill. — A University of Illinois researcher says there is no reason to ban plastic worms and other soft fishing lures made of gelatin-like materials.

While these lures have been proven slow to decompose – both inside of fish and on the bottom of lakes and ponds – Cory Suski pointed out that regulating fishing lures is not the best move.

“Rather than saying ‘let’s ban these lures,’ we can likely work with anglers and the [fishing] industry to improve things,” Suski, associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois,  said.  “What we’ve found in many projects is that anglers want to do the right thing. They care about the environment, but sometimes they just don’t know how their actions are affecting the environment – after all, before this study, no one had quantified how many of these lures had been lost.”

How many of the lures are being lost? According to a study by Suski and Steven Cooke of Carleton University in Canada, quite a few.

In fact, during the field portion of their study, snorkelers searching for lures along the shoreline in Charleston Lake in eastern Ontario – the test site for the study – found as many as 80 lures every 50 miles.

This news comes as the popularity of soft plastic lures continues to grow,

“We don’t think that people are discarding them intentionally,” Suski said. “They just drop off the hook or half of it rips off the hook and sinks to the bottom where they can’t be easily retrieved.”

In the lab portion of the study, eight different types of soft plastic lures were immersed in water at two temperatures for a two-year period to evaluate the change in size and the rate of decomposition.

“If a lure is swallowed and swells, it fills the fish’s stomach, and the fish likely will have problems with digestion,” Suski said. “Interestingly, swelling varies from lure to lure depending upon the brand ­– some up to 200 percent of their original size. We aren’t saying that one lure is better than the other, but that it is likely possible to create lures that don’t swell as much or ideally that degrade quickly.”

Actually, the research team did not find as many plastic lures in the stomachs of bass and other fish as they expected, especially considering the number of lures discovered in the test lake. Researchers explained that about 18 percent of the anglers they surveyed at the test lake had caught and cleaned a lake trout that contained a soft plastic lure. On the other hand, researchers themselves found that only about 2 percent of the lake trout they sampled contained one of the lures.

Meanwhile, wildlife officials in some states have considered pushing legislation that would ban the use of soft plastic lures. Last year, a Maine lawmaker introduced a bill to prohibit the use of all rubber-style lures, but public outcry from anglers and sportsmen quashed the measure. A study on the issue was commissioned, and officials from the state concluded earlier this year that a ban on the lures was unnecessary.

No such legislative threat exists in Illinois, but Suski noted that anglers can help prevent future pressure by following a few steps on their favorite lakes.

“Anglers might use alternative rigging methods such as an o-ring on stickbaits so that the lure will stay on the hook,” he said, adding that there are projects in the fishing community that encourage anglers to deposit used lures in the trash. One national effort is a B.A.S.S program called “Re-Bait.”

Suski and Cooke’s lure study was explained in a paper titled, “Exploring the Potential Effects of Lost or Discarded Soft Plastic Fishing Lures on Fish and the Environment,” which was published in a 2014 issue of Water, Air, and Soil Pollution.

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