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Archive for Sunday, January 26, 2003

Ban of lead fishing weights makes no sense

January 26, 2003

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If there ever was a reason to have a sinking feeling about an unneeded fishing regulation, it's about a proposed limit on the use of lead sinkers.

A movement is under way to restrict, or even ban, use of lead fishing weights because some water birds, especially loons, might ingest enough lead sinkers lost by anglers to die from lead poisoning.

That makes just about as much sense to me as did the ban on lead shot shell for waterfowl in five North Texas counties several years ago.

Five North Texas counties were set aside as an experiment for the banning of lead shot because people were concerned that ducks and geese were ingesting enough spent lead shot in grain fields and marsh-like shallows to poison them. The counties had no marsh-like shallows and few grain fields.

In the end, the move brought us regulations that require hunters to use steel and other nontoxic shot shell that, in my opinion, painfully cripples many more ducks and geese than would ever die from lead poisoning.

The movement did not begin with federal or state wildlife-management agencies. Nor did it begin with hunters. It began with so-called environmentalists and animal preservationists who are opposed to hunting.

Now, we face a push to ban lead fishing sinkers.

Waterfowl ingest gravel, grit and similar materials for use in their digestive systems. But to believe that they find enough lead fishing weights in a lake to cause them to die from lead poisoning is absurd.

But some people actually believe it. In fact, three states -- New Hampshire, Maine and New York -- have restricted the use or sale of lead sinkers of varying weights and sizes because of concerns that birds are ingesting lost ones. It is important to understand that the bans were based on "concerns," not significant data indicating there was a problem.

The main source of those concerns came from a 1992 Tufts University study that indicated 16 of 75 birds brought to the school for necropsy over a 2 1¼2-year period had "likely" died from ingesting lead sinkers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted its own lead-sinker study in 1999 through researchers of the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin. Almost 3,000 birds representing 30 species were examined, and about 37,000 other birds from necropsy records dating from 1975 to 1999 were reviewed.

The results showed that 23 of the 3,000 examined birds (including 11 of 313 loons) had ingested lead sinkers. Of the 37,000 radiographed samples, only 27 had ingested lead sinkers.

There is no data that show lead sinkers to be a significant cause of mortality among any species of birds, including loons, which are found in only 14 states.

Nevertheless, when you stop to think about it, there really wasn't any data that showed ducks in those five North Texas counties were finding enough lead shot on the muddy and often heavily silted bottoms of stock tanks and lakes to die from lead poisoning, either. Nor, in my opinion, was there enough evidence elsewhere to create a nationwide ban on lead shot.

I would like to see some data on how many ducks at Lake Worth, or Ray Roberts, or Possum Kingdom, Benbrook or any other lake have suffered from ingesting lead fishing weights. I also would like to see any future regulations for fishing based on common sense, not concerns.

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