Quirks and Quarks·QUIRKS & QUARKS

Fishing tackle kills a shocking number of loons

A study in New Hampshire reveals that 49% of all adult loon deaths in recent years are due to ingesting lead fishing tackle.

Why lead fishing tackle may be threatening loon populations

6 years ago
Duration 1:00
Why lead fishing tackle may be threatening loon populations

The problem

Loons are being poisoned to death because they ingest fishing tackle made of lead. They take in lead in a number of ways. They mistake some of the lead tackle for pebbles, which they scour from lake bottoms to use as surrogate teeth in their gizzard. They also ingest lead by eating fish that are trailing broken fishing lines and tackle.  And they strike at lead tackle in the water, believing it to be food.       

The loon population 

In a recent study in New Hampshire, Harry Vogel, the Canadian Executive Director and Senior Biologist with the Loon Preservation Committee found that 49 per cent of all adult loon deaths between 1989 and 2012 were the result of ingesting lead fishing tackle. They estimate that this reduced the population in that state by 43 per cent in those years, and the annual population growth rate by 1.4%, which is significant in a species that reproduces very slowly. 

The solution

Several states, including New Hampshire have now restricted the use and sale of some lead fishing tackle. Lead-free fishing is also part of the solution. There are also other materials that can be used in place of lead, such as tungsten, steel, tin, stone and various composite materials. In Canada, lead fishing tackle is banned in national parks and wildlife areas, but remains in use elsewhere.