Loons, Lead Sinkers & Jigs
January 1, 2012 -- The use of any lead fishing sinkers and lead jigs weighing less than 1 ounce is now prohibited in all inland waters (fresh water) of the Commonwealth.
In terms of this regulation, "lead sinker" or "lead weight" is defined as any sinker or weight made from lead that weighs less than 1 ounce. A "lead jig" is defined as any lead-weighted hook weighing less than 1 ounce. Prohibited tackle includes lead sinkers and jigs weighing less than an ounce regardless of whether they are painted, coated with rubber, covered by attached "skirts" or some other material. See the questions below for more details.
Which lead sinkers and jigs are illegal to use when fishing in Massachusetts?
The use of any lead fishing sinkers and lead jigs weighing less than 1 ounce is now prohibited in all Massachusetts inland waters (freshwater). Examples of prohibited tackle weighing less than 1 ounce include but are not limited to: split shot, bottom-bumping jigs, bullet weights, lead sinkers, or jigs which are painted, "skirted", or otherwise covered with rubber or other substance.
What equipment can I use legally when freshwater fishing?
You may use lead sinkers and jigs weighing 1 oz or more. Other examples of hooks and lures which anglers may continue to use include artificial lures such as:
- buzz baits,
- rooster tails,
- metals and spoons,
- spinners and spinner-baits,
- jerk or stick baits,
- swim baits,
- lead-core fishing line,
- and weighted flies.
Is there alternative equipment available?
Ecologically safe alternatives to lead sinkers and lead jigs (such as steel, tungsten, bismuth, copper, brass, and tin) are readily available from many sources and come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, weights, and sizes to meet every type of fishing need.
In 2009, after a DFW staff review and public hearing, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board unanimously voted to prohibit the use of lead sinkers and jigs weighing less than an ounce with the provision that the regulation go into effect January 1, 2012. This delay was designed to give manufacturers and anglers time to adjust to these changes.
The regulation was implemented primarily to protect the state's small population of Common Loons (Gavia immer). Common Loons are a state listed Species of Special Concern.
The Common loon (Gavia immer) nested in Massachusetts historically but was extirpated in the late nineteenth century. In 1975, however, a pair of loons was discovered nesting at Quabbin Reservoir. Today, there are approximately 32 nesting pairs of loons on 14 different lakes, ponds and reservoirs in the Commonwealth. Loons are listed on the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act list as a Species of Special Concern. Common loons reach the southern limits of their North American range in Massachusetts and their population growth in this state is limited by habitat. In general, loons require approximately 1000 acres of water per nesting pair, islands for nesting, and limited human disturbance. This is in large part why Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs support the core of the state's total loon population with 16 and 4 nesting pairs, respectively.
Ingestion of lead fishing gear is the single largest cause of mortality for adult loons in New England. Veterinarians at Tufts University - School of Veterinary Medicine examined over 483 dead adult loons from fresh waters and determined that approximately 44% of these birds died as the result of lead poisoning from the ingestion of lead fishing gear. Their ongoing research has documented that ingestion of lead sinkers (including split shot) accounted for approximately 79% of the dead adult loons from fresh water. Just a single lead sinker can poison a loon. A bird with lead poisoning will have physical and behavioral changes including loss of balance, gasping, tremors and impaired ability to fly. The weakened bird is more vulnerable to predators and may have trouble feeding, mating, nesting, and caring for its young. It becomes emaciated and often dies within two to three weeks after eating the lead.
How do Loons Ingest Lead?
There are at least two ways loons are ingesting lead sinkers. One way is when loons take minnows being used as bait. In eating the minnow, the loon breaks off the line and then swallows the hook, line, swivel and sinker. A second way appears to be when loons ingest small pebbles from lake bottoms and inadvertently swallow lead sinkers or are actively selecting them for some reason (perhaps because of their unique size, shape or shininess).
Regulatory Actions To Protect Loons
In 2001, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board prohibited the use of all lead sinkers for the taking of fish in Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, the loons' primary habitat in the state.
In 2009, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board unanimously voted to prohibit the use of lead sinkers, lead weights, and lead fishing jigs with a mass of less than 1 ounce in all inland waters of Massachusetts. As previously noted, to give manufacturers and anglers time to adjust to this change, this regulation was scheduled to take effect January 1, 2012.
Through this new conservation regulation it is possible to reduce the chance of lead poisoning of loons, a goal all sportsmen should support. Most anglers who have experienced the presence of loons would agree that sightings of these magnificent birds and the enjoyment of their iconic, eerie calls adds to the quality of any fishing experience.
Help Us Get The Word Out!
Sporting and fishing clubs, bait and tackle stores, watershed associations, marinas, and other conservation organizations can help get the message about the new regulation in several ways: making announcements at meetings, publishing the information in newsletters or email blasts, or posting a flyer (Get the Lead Out) announcing the lead sinker ban available from the DFW website.