Lead fishing tackle kills loons.
That sad truth played out on Great Pond in September, when a lakefront property owner reported a distressed adult loon on his beach. The bird was taken to Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center, where an X-ray revealed a lead fishing weight in its gizzard and a clip from a jig in its intestines.
Avian Haven officials found a deadly level of lead in the loon’s bloodstream. Euthanasia was the only option to ending the bird’s misery.
“The takeaway is there are still way too many lead jigs, sinkers, et cetera that are no longer legal to sell in Maine but are still in too many tackle boxes,” said Dick Greenan, who leads the Loon Preservation Project for the Belgrade Lakes Association, the association for Great and Long ponds.
To protect loons, the State of Maine in 2017 outlawed the sale and use of unpainted lead-headed jigs and sinkers containing 1 ounce or less of lead and measuring 2.5 inches or less in length. Lead poisoning caused by ingesting lost or discarded fishing gear is a leading cause of death for adult Common Loons.
Loons ingest lead tackle by eating a fish that has swallowed a jighead or sinker, striking at a line with lead tackle attached, or mistaking small split-shot sinkers for pebbles, which loons ingest to aid in digestion.
Early signs of lead poisoning include abnormal behavior, progressing to diarrhea, weakness, tremors, gasping and muscle paralysis. Loons with late-stage lead poisoning will pull themselves up on shore. Loons die within four weeks of ingesting lead tackle.
Lead poisoning also impacts bald eagles, common mergansers, mallards, American black ducks, Canada geese, herons, terns and gulls.
Dead loons can be reported to the Portland-based Biodiversity Research Institute at 207-839-7600. BRI collects dead loons from across New England to determine causes of death. Greenan, the BLA’s point person on loon preservation, may also be contacted at 770-833-1085. Dead loons should be photographed, and their location and if they are banded noted, but should never be touched by a layperson. A dead loon may have suffered a contagious disease.
Along with switching to tackle made from tin, tungsten, steel and ceramics, anglers should examine their tackle boxes and properly dispose of lead tackle. A list of Maine retailers who sell non-lead tackle is posted at fishleadfree.org/me, as is a list of lead tackle collection sites, including the 7 Lakes Alliance headquarters at 137 Main St. in the Belgrade Lakes village.