Angler’s Urged To Get The Lead Out And Properly Dispose Of Fishing Line

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Patti Sowka, director of the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, got the call on a recent Tuesday afternoon. A facility maintenance person found an ailing loon wrapped in fishing line near the Big Sandy fishing access site at Hauser Lake.  

Gerry Ryan, a Montana Wildlife Center volunteer, picked up the loon and delivered it to Swoka, who quickly sent it to a local vet for treatment and an X-ray.   The loon had ingested two fishhooks and did not survive.

The loss of migratory birds and other wildlife to fishing line, lures and lead fishing sinkers is a growing concern.

A Tufts University study on New England lakes concluded that more than half the deaths among adult loons in that area were due to lead poisoning. Loons, for example, may ingest lead sinkers along with small stones they pick up at the bottom of a lake to use to aid digestion, or eat fish with the lure and sinker attached.

The National Wildlife Federation believes that least 20 percent of all loon deaths in the U.S. can be linked to lead fishing tackle. Nationwide, birds of more than 30 species are at risk including swans, pelicans, geese, ducks, cranes, herons and eagles.

Anglers are encouraged to recover snagged hooks and line whenever possible and to look into nontoxic alternatives to lead sinkers and jigs. Alternatives include steel, bismuth, tin, tungsten and alloys of these metals or metal and plastic or metal and ceramic combinations. Zinc fishing weights should be avoided as zinc can be toxic enough to threaten loons and other water birds when ingested.

Anglers can make a commitment to:

  • recover snagged tackle as often as possible. Hooks, lures and monofilament are deadly to wildlife, whether they contain lead or not;
  • stop using lead tackle, including lead-weighted jigs and other weighted lures;
  • buy lead-free tackle from retailers that stock alternatives to and encourage retailers to stock lead-free replacements for all weighted tackle products.

For more information on loons, or to become actively involved in a loon project, contact the Common Loon Working Group at 863-5444, or the Montana Loon Society at loonmont@hotmailcom.

For more information on Montana fishing law, please see the 2008 Montana fishing regulations on line at on the Fishing page, or pick up a copy at any FWP regional office from an FWP license provider.