Emily Preston, Wildlife Biologist/Outreach Biologist, N.H. Fish and Game: 603-271-2461
Harry Vogel, Senior Biologist/Executive Director, Loon Preservation Committee: 603-476-5666
July 23, 2014
Third Loon Death from Lead Poisoning Underscores Need for Switch to Non-lead Tackle
MOULTONBOROUGH, N.H. – The mood was unmistakably somber as a Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) biologist collected the third documented lead-poisoned loon from New Hampshire waters this year, this one discovered on July 18, 2014, on Lake Winnipesaukee. The loon was collected near the Lanes End Marina in Melvin Village after it beached itself. It was transported to Meadow Pond Animal Hospital in Moultonborough for a blood test and x-rays. Radiographs showed a lead-headed fishing jig (a lead weight molded around a hook), and blood lead levels were at toxic levels, so the loon was immediately euthanized.
Photo Caption: A healthy loon, the very symbol of our New Hampshire’s lakes and wilderness on the left, and a lead-poisoned loon on the right. Lead is a neurotoxin, and lead-poisoned loons will be lethargic and often beach themselves as symptoms progress. (Click on photo for larger image - Photo credit: Kittie Wilson)
The link between loon deaths and lead poisoning first emerged in the 1980s, when the discovery was made that loons were ingesting lead fishing tackle in the form of sinkers and jigs. Necropsies performed by the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine on dead adult common loons in New Hampshire revealed that 49% had the remains of lead sinkers and jigs in their gizzards and had died from lead poisoning. A loon will die from lead poisoning approximately two to four weeks after ingesting lead tackle.
“It seems likely that loons are eating fish that have tackle in or on them. As the acidic juices in the bird’s gizzard break down the food, the lead is also broken down and gets into the bloodstream of the bird,” said Emily Preston, a wildlife biologist with the N.H. Fish and Game Department. “The good news is that using alternatives to lead tackle should provide immediate relief to the loon population.”
Necropsies of dead adult loons show that lead tackle accounts for more deaths than every other human factor combined. The loss of so many adults from this preventable cause of mortality hasinhibited the recovery of loons in New Hampshire, according to the LPC. “Because loons do not breed until 6-7 years of age and have low reproductive success, it is important that adult loons survive for many years to produce surviving young,” said Harry Vogel, Senior Biologist and Executive Director at LPC. “The loss of an adult loon may also result in the loss of that loon’s nest or chick, further negatively impacting the population.”
To help address this problem, Fish and Game convened a Lead and Loon Working Group in 2013. The idea was to provide a forum for diverse partners to work toward the common goal of motivating all anglers to change to lead-free tackle. Organizations currently participating include Fish and Game, The Loon Preservation Committee, N.H. Lakes Association, N.H. Fish and Game Commission, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, N.H. Department of Environmental Services, N.H. Lakes Management Council, N.H. Audubon and US Fish and Wildlife Service. All are contributing to outreach efforts across the state.
“Lead is a known factor that we have the ability to address. It is something we can choose to change,” said Laura Ryder, Education Programs Supervisor at Fish and Game. With that in mind, the Lead and Loon Working Group is reaching out to anglers from all walks of life and providing information to help them choose alternatives to lead fishing tackle.
Laws are being strengthened to encourage the switch. New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to restrict the sale and use of small lead fishing tackle to protect loons. In 2013, Governor Hassan signed a bill (SB 89) that increases protection for loons from lead fishing tackle by banning the sale and freshwater use of lead fishing sinkers and jigs (lead-weighted hooks) weighing one ounce or less. This bill will be implemented in June of 2016, but N.H. Fish and Game and The Loon Preservation Committee are urging everyone to remove lead tackle from their tackle boxes now. Safe alternatives to lead tackle, made of steel, tungsten, tin, bismuth, and many other materials, are effective and readily available. (See a list of suppliers on the LPC website, loon.org).
As word gets out, many anglers are changing their tackle over and choosing to fish lead free. “Switching to lead-alternative tackle is the right thing to do, not just for the common loon recovery, but also for any other wildlife with similar habits that may also be vulnerable to ingesting lead sinkers and jigs,” said Jason Smith, Chief of Inland Fisheries at the Fish and Game Department. “We always have choices, and this choice can help the common loon to
make a more solid recovery.”
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (wildnh.com) works in partnership with the public to conserve, manage and protect the state’s fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats; inform and educate the public about these resources; and provide the public with opportunities to use and appreciate these resources.
The Loon Preservation Committee (loon.org) monitors loons throughout the state as part of its mission to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons in New Hampshire; to monitor the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and to promote a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.