Sean M. Strom, Wildlife Toxicologist, WDNR Bureau of Wildlife Management
Lead is one of the most toxic metals known and adverse impacts due to lead exposure have been documented in numerous wildlife species. Lead deposited in the environment will persist indefinitely and will not break down over time into less toxic compounds. Lead can poison people and animals such as loons, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, great blue herons. All it takes is one lead sinker to kill a 12-pound loon.
In 2006 the DNR implemented a Wildlife Health Program that included performing necropsies on every dead loon that was recovered in the state. Lead was identified as a major mortality factor for common loons and lead sinkers were routinely seen on x-ray images of lead-poisoned loons.
Lead poisoning from ingested tackle usually occurs in one of two ways: a lead jig head is swallowed by a fish which is then eaten by a waterbird, or lost lead tackle is picked up along with small stones and grit from the bottom of lakes by water birds to help digest food.
Switching to non-lead tackle is a fairly inexpensive and easy way to make a difference. Alternatives to lead tackle are available on the Internet and in many bait and tackle shops. Consider asking your favorite bait/tackle shop to carry lead alternative fishing tackle.
LoonWatch (northland.edu/loonwatch) maintains a list of non-lead tackle suppliers. Other sources of information are the Raptor Education Group (raptoreducationgroup.org) and DNR’s website (dnr.wi.gov/fish/pages/gettheleadout.html).