Minnesota wants anglers to go lead-free to help loons

(Minnesota DNR)

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is launching a new program to encourage anglers to switch to lead-free fishing equipment as a way to save the state bird, the loon.

The campaign was created with money from the federal government’s settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded Minnesota agencies more than $6 million from the settlement to help support its loon population after researchers found traces of oil and the chemicals used to disperse the spill in the feathers, eggs and blood of birds in Minnesota.

About $1.2 million will go toward the public awareness campaign called “Get the Lead Out” over the next three years.

But State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chair of the Minnesota Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee has temporarily delayed the funding so his committee can hold a hearing on the program. He expects approval soon.

In the meantime, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is moving forward. It has already posted a website that lists more than three dozen companies where anglers can find lead-free fishing equipment that won’t harm loons.

While some states have total or partial bans on the use of lead sinkers and jigs, Minnesota’s lead-free campaign is voluntary.

Carrol Henderson, who retired from the state DNR in 2018, led a seven-year study that found Minnesota’s loons were affected by the BP oil spill. He says loons are especially susceptible to lead poisoning because they swallow pebbles at the bottom of lakes to help them grind up their food.

“When they accidentally pick up a lead jig or sinker off the bottom, all it takes is one split shot or one jig to kill the loon from lead poisoning,” Henderson said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates lead poisoning causes about 14% of loon deaths in the state.

“It’s something that’s totally avoidable if people simply learn to shop for nontoxic jigs and sinkers,” Henderson said, pointing out various lead-free alternatives made from materials like tin, steel, bismuth or tungsten.

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