Are Lead Fishing Weights Up Next on California’s Chopping Block?


California sportsmen are bracing themselves for the upcoming implementation of the state’s lead ammo ban, but anglers may have to dump their tackle boxes as well. Lead fishing weights garnered a spot on a list compiled by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). A place on the DTSC’s Safer Consumer Products three-year work plan means that lead weights will be coming under review by the agency and may even be restricted or banned. Like the lead ammunition used by hunters, the agency contends that lead sinkers can pose a threat to a number of birds and other animals if ingested.

“Recreational anglers fish in sensitive habitats like lakes, rivers, streams, bays, and the ocean. More than two million Californians fish recreationally. Together, these anglers may lose hundreds of tons of fishing and angling equipment into the environment,” the draft read.

The work plan listed swans, waterfowl, gulls, turtles, cranes, herons, and pelicans as animals that are commonly affected by the consumption of lead sinkers.

“The science on small amounts of lead causing health problems and mortality for birds is pretty robust,” Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity told the Sacramento Bee. “We know the effects of lead, we know it doesn’t take a lot of lead to kill a bird, and we know birds that are picking up these lead sinkers and ingesting them thinking they’re pebbles or grit.”

Some other states have already banned lead weights under one ounce because of their alleged propensity to get lost, yet anglers say that these sinkers should not cause much of an issue for wildlife.

“Anglers losing ‘hundreds of tons’ of toxic fishing gear in the water? A lot of non-lead lures, plastic monofilament leaders, artificial flies and smelly worms, yes. But lead weights? They’re normally the last to get lost and mostly return to the tackle box,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton.

Much like the lead ammo ban, which is due to be implemented by 2019, sportsmen say that that regulations will only serve to raise prices and make fishing less affordable. Critics say it would also be a nightmare to enforce any regulations, as the lead sinkers are hard to tell apart from alternative weights at a distance.

“We knew when they were coming after lead ammo that lead tackle was going to be next,” said Jim Martin, West Coast director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “A lot of people have enough lead to last the rest of their lives in their tacklebox. At what point do you say, you can’t use this any more and you need to buy an expensive alternative?”

Other items on the work plan included common chemicals used in clothing production or cleaning products, as well as flame retardants in furniture. The DTSC stressed that the plan is still just a draft. The agency will be conferring with industry experts, scientists, and the general public through workshops before any final decisions are made.

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