Saving Our Loons–Hook, Line and Sinker

Loon and chicks _ Cathy LacombeBy Susie Burbidge

We are extremely fortunate to have a resident pair of loons that calls Eastman Lake “home” each summer. How would you feel if one of those treasured adults was found listless, close to shore, unable to keep its head up, and showing signs of a neurological disorder? These are the signs of a loon with lead poisoning, and, unfortunately, this is a real possibility on our lake and lakes throughout New Hampshire. In the first two months of 2016, the Loon Preservation Committee rescued from ice-covered lakes three loons that were unable to migrate to the ocean because they were sick with lead poisoning.

Poisoning from ingested lead fishing tackle is the number one cause of adult loon mortality in New Hampshire, accounting for close to half of all loon deaths in the last 25 years. New Hampshire joined a new initiative called “Fish Lead Free,” started by Maine Audubon in 2014, to help anglers switch to non-lead fishing tackle. Vermont, Massachusetts and New York followed suit in this region-wide campaign shortly afterward. A unified and consistent message, along with a unique logo (see above), and other outreach materials will help solidify this message and spread the word on this important issue. New legislation is anticipated to be implemented in a few months, moving us one step closer to saving more loons.

The Loon Preservation Committee is continuing its hard work to educate anglers and other lake users about the effects of lead fishing tackle on loons and other wildlife. Senate Bill 89 (SB 89), which restricts the sale and freshwater use of lead fishing sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less, was signed into law by Governor Maggie Hassan in August 2013 and goes into effect in June 2016. The Committee urges anglers to make the switch now to protect loons and many other species of wildlife that also live in or around our lakes.

There are several ways in which loons ingest lead fishing tackle, including:
– Eating a fish with attached lead fishing tackle
– Striking at bait being trolled or retrieved through the water with lead tackle attached
– Picking tackle off the bottom of the lake, mistaking it for a pebble they normally ingest to aid in digestion

If you fish or know someone who does, please visit to learn more about this important campaign, including where to buy lead-free tackle and how to dispose of old lead tackle.

Susie Burbidge is a member of Eastman’s Lakes and Streams Committee and also works for the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough, NH.

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