Fish Lead Free: Getting Out on the Ice in Maine!

It was a slow start to ice fishing season in Maine this year, but in February the ice fishing events were stacked so I decided to join in the fun and was out on the ice educating anglers about the benefits of lead-free fishing. Why?  Because lead poisoning in loons is one of the  leading causes of death for recovered loon mortalities throughout the state. As a result, Maine state law bans the use and sale of lead sinkers and unpainted lead jig heads weighing 1 ounce or less or measuring 2.5 inches long or less.

Maine Audubon’s Laura Williams at Trout Unlimited Sebago Chapter’s ice fishing event on Chaffin Pond on February 18.

But what I discovered surprised me. The number of anglers unaware that a lead tackle law exists in Maine was staggering. It can be complicated to keep up with the various fishing regulations throughout the state but the lead tackle restrictions apply statewide and sadly seem to be not that well known. With many anglers either getting their tackle from out of state sources or using older tackle passed down to them, it’s quite easy to end up with these illegal sizes in your tackle box.  (Tips on cleaning out your tackle box here!)

The biggest question of the weekend I got was: What does the paint on a lead jig do? In truth, not much besides making it seem like a safer option and adding a flash of color to attract fish. The reality is, this paint can chip off easily while bouncing around along lake bottoms or in your tackle box. Lead-free jig heads come unpainted or painted so if you’re looking for that flash of color you can still get it.

Between the two events this weekend, I was able to collect 135 pieces of lead tackle from anglers. Although the total weight of these items doesn’t seem like a lot at 1.7 pounds, 26.9 ounces, the most striking number to me is the 135 pieces of small lead tackle. That’s 135 less pieces of lead that could end up in our lakes and ponds; lessening the chances of these small lead tackle pieces ending up in a loon’s stomach. 

It was great to partner with some other organizations in the state to spread the word about fishing lead-free last weekend during Maine’s free fishing weekend. These ice-fishing events are a great place to meet anglers, collect lead tackle, and distribute lead-free tackle and information. Thanks to Trout Unlimited Sebago for hosting their ice fishing event on Chaffin Pond in Windham. And thanks to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Hooked on Fishing not on Drugs program along with Cast and Call Guides Services LLC for hosting a free ice fishing clinic on Lower Mousam in Shapleigh.

Remember to bring your old lead tackle with you if you are going to any of Maine’s three Sportsman Shows in March. Find me at the Maine Audubon booth and you can swap out your lead for some lead-free alternatives!


Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show
University of Maine Field House, Orono
March 10, 11, 12

Presque Isle Fish and Game Club Sportsman’s Show
University of Maine Gentile Building, Presque Isle
March 25-26

State of Maine Sportsman’s Show
Civic Center, Augusta
March 31- April 2

Boosting Fish Lead Free efforts this winter in Maine

Winter is the perfect time to clean out your tackle box of any unwanted or illegal lead tackle. You might start by cleaning out the illegal tackle: Maine bans the use and sale of lead sinkers and unpainted lead jig heads weighing 1 ounce or less and measuring 2.5 inches long or less. But since this ban only includes some of the lead tackle that is out there, you may want to take a closer look at what’s in your tackle box. Handling and fishing with any form of lead can pose health risks for us and the wildlife we love. Lead poisoning from lead tackle is the third highest cause of death in Maine’s loon mortalities, after trauma (from boat strikes) and fungal respiratory disease.

Lead fishing tackle

How do you know if your fishing tackle has lead in it? Lead looks dull and dark gray in color whereas lead-free alternatives have a shinier appearance. A quick and easy way to tell is try to write with it on a piece of paper. If it makes a mark, there’s lead in it! (Remember when pencils used to be made with lead?) Another sure way to tell is if you can make an indentation in the material with your fingernail or pliers. Lead is softer than other alternatives and can be easily molded—which is one of the reasons lead was originally used in tackle before we knew about its adverse health effects.

Lead-free fishing tackle

Lead is embedded in other types of fishing tackle as well and it can be challenging to know when your tackle contains lead. Lead weights are often enclosed in larger lures made of hard and soft plastics. The packaging of any tackle that contains lead is required to disclose that. Be sure to check tackle packaging before purchasing, especially when shopping online. When searching for lead-free tackle online be sure that there isn’t a Prop 65 warning (required under CA law)—that means your tackle will have some amount of lead in it.

Although the lead tackle ban does not include artificial lures, weighted line, weighted flies or painted jig heads, we recommend fishing entirely lead-free. There are many lead tackle alternatives, such as tungsten, bismuth, steel, tin, glass, stone, and metal composite, that are just as effective, although they each have slightly different properties that can take some getting used to. Tungsten is denser and harder than lead, which allows you to “feel” the bait more effectively, in turn allowing you to feel the bite more. Tin, bismuth, and steel alloys are lighter than lead and provide a more natural appearance and presentation. Steel and bismuth are harder than lead making them less likely to get hung up on rocks while angling.

If your tackle box is anything like mine, it’s a smorgasbord of tackle bought and collected over the years, along with tackle passed down to me from my father, uncle, and grandfather. If your tackle was purchased before 2010 the chances are quite high there’s lead in it. In addition, many other states do not have lead tackle bans in place, so if you have purchased tackle outside of Maine it could contain lead.

So cozy up next to the fireplace and dig in to your tackle box! Remove anything that you suspect is lead or has lead in it (even small amounts)—especially if it is within the illegal limits (weighing 1 ounce or less and measuring 2.5 inches long or less). You can drop off or mail your lead tackle to us at Maine Audubon or click here to find a list of other disposal sites. Or better yet, find us at one of Maine’s three Sportsman Shows coming up in March (dates below) to exchange your lead tackle for lead-free alternatives.

I will be collecting any and all unwanted lead tackle at the Orono, Presque Isle, and Augusta Sportsman Shows in March. Bring at least 1 ounce of unwanted lead tackle to exchange for some lead-free samples or vouchers for $10 worth of lead-free tackle at participating retailers.  There are currently five retailers to choose from, but we hope to partner with other tackle shops at the shows so there can be a wider variety of lead-free tackle options for anglers.

Additionally, I will be collecting any old or unwanted lead tackle at some upcoming ice fishing derbies. Anglers need to bring at least 1 ounce of lead tackle to receive lead-free tackle samples in exchange. I will be at Trout Unlimited Sebago Chapter’s ice fishing event on Chaffin Pond on February 18. This event is already fully booked but if you’ve already secured your spot, be sure to bring any old lead tackle with you! I will also be collecting lead tackle at a free ice fishing clinic on Lower Mousam on February 19 hosted by MDIFW and Cast and Call Guide Services LLC. Spots are still available for registration. If you plan on attending another upcoming fishing derby or would like to host your own tackle exchange, please reach out to me at so we can coordinate an exchange. Click here to see where we purchase our lead-free tackle.


Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show
University of Maine Field House, Orono
March 10, 11, 12

Presque Isle Fish and Game Club Sportsman’s Show
University of Maine Gentile Building, Presque Isle
March 25-26

State of Maine Sportsman Show
Civic Center, Augusta
March 31- April 2

Loon Preservation Committee, NH Fish & Game Department, and Local Tackle Retailers Partner to Protect Loons with Lead (Pb) Tackle Buy Back

Moultonborough, NH – The Loon Preservation Committee (LPC), New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFG), and two local fishing retailers are teaming up to address continuing loon deaths by buying back certain lead (Pb) fishing tackle known to poison loons—and banned by a state law that went into effect on June 1, 2016.

From June 2 through Labor Day (September 3), or until the initial 200 certificates are claimed, anglers can exchange one ounce or more of banned tackle (jigs and sinkers) for a $10 gift certificate redeemable at the participating shops: AJ’s Tackle (Meredith, NH), and The Tackle Shack (Newbury, NH).

Current law bans the sale and freshwater use of lead sinkers and jigs with a total weight of one ounce or less. Only banned tackle is eligible for exchange as part of the buy-back program. One exchange is permitted per customer.

The tackle buy back is a pilot program that builds upon ongoing educational outreach by LPC and NHFG.  LPC and NHFG are part of a region-wide initiative called Fish Lead Free (, which is dedicated to providing resources for anglers across New England to help them make the switch to lead-free tackle.

“We are pleased to partner with these shops and offer an additional incentive to anglers stepping up to do the right thing for loons by moving to non-lead alternatives like steel, tungsten, tin, bismuth, and other materials,” said Harry Vogel, Senior Biologist and Executive Director at LPC. 

In addition to the tackle buy back, collection receptacles at all New Hampshire Fish and Game offices, The Loon Center in Moultonborough, and the NH Lakes Association office in Concord provide places for proper disposal of lead fishing tackle.

The Loon Preservation Committee ( works to protect loons throughout the state as part of its mission to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons in New Hampshire; to monitor the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and to promote a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department ( works in partnership with the public to conserve, manage and protect the state’s fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats; inform and educate the public about these resources; and provide the public with opportunities to use and appreciate these resources.

For more information please contact:

Mark Beauchesne, Advertising & Promotions Coordinator, New Hampshire Fish & Game Department: (603) 271-6355

Harry Vogel, Senior Biologist/Executive Director, Loon Preservation Committee: (603) 476-5666

Tackle boxes for campers

One of the big accomplishments for the Fish Lead-Free team this summer has been the donation of “starter kits” with lead-free tackle to the Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs program run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. We are proud to be working with a program that aims to promote family togetherness through fishing! Starting next week, children participating in HOF will receive their own tackle box with the Fish Lead-Free logo on it, and a sampling of tackle made with non-lead materials. We also included information about how to find online retailers and how to learn more about the importance of lead-free fishing!


A close up of the materials included in each tackle box – a bumper sticker, lead-free sinkers and jig heads, and information about how to find out more on our website!

We are excited to be able to provide these materials to new anglers, and we hope that they take these tackle boxes with them and share what they learn with their peers! We were able to give several hundred boxes to the HOF program, and we will continue to use the extras during our presentations and other events.


The boxes all stacked up and ready to go!

Thanks to those at Maine Audubon who took an hour out of their afternoon to help us with all the assembly! And thank you to the HOF program for working hard to help children learn valuable life skills through fishing; we are happy to be collaborating with such a great program. If you are interested in learning more about the Hooked on Fishing program, click here. And as always if you are interested in someone from the Fish Lead-Free program coming to your event, please contact us at

Happy fishing!



A busy summer for the Fish Lead-Free team!

This has been a busy few weeks for the Fish Lead-Free team based in Maine! A few weeks ago, we gave a presentation and hosted a lead tackle exchange at the Tacoma Lakes Association in Litchfield, ME at their annual meeting. I loved the chance to talk to residents who lived and worked around these lakes, and see how invested they are in protecting the local ecosystems! Then, two weeks ago we travelled to Hope, ME, and hosted another tackle exchange with a presentation at the annual meeting of the Megunticook Watershed Association at the beautiful Camp Bishopwood! Once again, we got to learn about the status of these lakes, and help people understand how to protect the wildlife (especially loons) by fishing with lead-free tackle.

Our latest adventure took place in Rangeley, ME. I was invited to speak at the annual “Special Loon and Eagle Program” hosted by Rangeley Region Lake Cruises and the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum. This was a fantastic day of outdoor education, starting with Lisa Kane, Education Coordinator from Maine DIFW, presenting about loons and eagles. Then I partnered with Joe Roy from BioDiversity Research Institute to discuss the Annual Loon Count, the many threats facing loons, and then covered the dangers of fishing with lead tackle and the ways that we can all help to encourage lead-free fishing! We finished with a beautiful guided tour of Rangeley Lake where we saw loons, eagles, osprey, and other wildlife.

And we have an upcoming event! On August 2nd at 7pm, I will be presenting “The State of Maine’s Loons” at the Somes Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary in Mt. Desert, ME. I will be talking about the efforts that Fish Lead-Free has been involved with, and discuss the Loon Count, loon mortality study, and the many threats that loons face today (both natural and man-made).  We will also be getting an update on the loon population within the Somes Meynell Sanctuary, including the 14 chicks that hatched this year! Seating is limited, for more information on the event contact the sanctuary at (207)-244-4027.

If you are interested in having someone from the Fish Lead-Free team come and speak at an event you are hosting, please contact! We love having the opportunity to travel and speak to groups about loon population ecology, lead impacts on loons, and giving updates on the changing legislation on lead tackle use.


A Good Day for Loons – Harry Vogel, Senior Biologist and Exec. Director of LPC

We have a sneak peak of the Summer 2016 Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) newsletter! The Executive Director and Senior Biologist at LPC Harry Vogel shares his thoughts on the recent legislative changes to the use and sale of lead tackle in New Hampshire in a letter.

On June 1st of 2016, new legislation went into effect in New Hampshire that was passed in 2013 as Senate Bill 89. With this new law on the books, the sale and freshwater use of lead sinkers and lead jigs weighing an ounce or less is not permitted. These changes represent a culmination of decades of work by many different parties, and they are an important next step in protecting the common loon as well as over two dozen other species that are known to have died from lead poisoning in the past following ingestion of lead fishing sinkers and jigs.

“After years of education through programs, press releases and other means and no drop in loon mortalities from ingested tackle, we realized that a comprehensive solution including legislation to restrict the sale and use of these toxic sinkers and jigs was needed.”

LPC has been an important part of the efforts to monitor loon mortality data.Through their work, they have shown that the leading known cause of adult loon mortality is from ingested lead tackle. Over the last 25 years, 48% of the loons collected in New Hampshire were determined to have died from lead poisoning from ingesting lead sinkers or jigs. For more information on this study and others by LPC, click here.

For the full letter from director Harry Vogel, click here.

It is vital that we continue to work with anglers across the Northeast to make changes that protect sensitive wildlife. For those anglers in New Hampshire, we encourage you to make sure your tackle is in accordance with the new regulations. If you need to purchase new lead-free tackle, there are many sources listed on our Online Retailers page. For those in other states, continue to be aware of changes to local legislation and check your state page for more information.

Fishing Lead-Free Hall of Fame!

Calling all Lead-Free Anglers!

The Fish Lead Free project is looking for anglers to submit photos of the biggest fish they have caught using lead-free fishing tackle. We want to find the biggest fish that have been caught for our lead-free fishing hall of fame. The angler with the largest fish will have their picture put on our website cover page for all to see, so get fishing!

Below we have our first entry, an 18 inch Large Mouth Bass caught by Conor Nadeau from Cumberland, Maine using tin split shot.

18'' Large-Mouth Bass

18” Large-Mouth Bass caught by Conor Nadeau

If you think your fish deserves to be in the Lead-Free Fishing Hall of Fame send us an email with your picture (high resolution JPEGs only), your name, lake location, what tackle you used, and the size of the fish in the picture (no cheating!) to

Happy Fishing!

River Clean-up Focuses on getting out Line and Lead

Journalist Matt Markey from The Blade wrote a great article about the local effort in Ohio aimed at cleaning up fishing line and associated lead fishing tackle in the Maumee River. Below is an excerpt from the article with a link to the rest of it at the bottom of the page.

“With thousands of anglers flooding the Maumee River for two months each spring, lured into the water for the fishing bonanza created by the spawning runs of Lake Erie walleyes and white bass, there are going to be some footprints left behind.

Sadly, there will also be trash, including discarded food containers, cans and bottles, packaging from tackle, and even damaged waders. Those things are relatively easy to see and to clean up.

Fishing line and lead fishing weights lodged in the waterway, however, are a different kind of problem.

Strong, durable, and in many cases darned near invisible, fishing line will not break down for many years, so when the numerous snags in the river result in lines breaking off, the hazard it creates will last a long time, if not removed. The lead weights used by anglers in the swift river current present an equally troubling outcome.

The most frequent scenario involves an angler’s hook hanging up between rocks or on a submerged tree limb. In the crowd that the spawning runs attract, the fisherman can’t move up and down the waterway to attempt to dislodge the lure. So in haste, he often breaks off the line, ties on a new hook and weight, and continues fishing.

A few cases of lines breaking in the river will not present a significant hazard. But when multiplied by the hundreds each week, throughout the run, a major environmental issue is created.

All of those line fragments, hooks and lead weights swirling around in the Maumee become a veritable minefield for the fish, waterfowl and other wildlife that use the river.

One snag catches another, and then 10 more, creating web-like snares that threaten anything in the water.”

For the rest of the article please follow this link!

North American Loon Symposium


After more than a year of planning, the North American Loon Symposium is almostupon us!  Maine Audubon is a sponsor of the symposium. I will be going out to northern Wisconsin next week to help support the conference, present on our Fish Lead-Free initiative and co-chair a working group on Research Directions and Conservation Strategies.  With over 100 people registered for the conference from across the country and more than 40 presenters, it will be a great opportunity to learn about what is new in the world of loon conservation.

I am especially excited about the working groups and the opportunity to broaden our thinking about the big issues for loon conservation and how we might work across states and regions to address them. I also have a goal of reaching out to colleagues in other states about our successful Fish Lead Free initiative, and to work toward a more uniform approach to our outreach efforts.  We can be more effective with our outreach if we are consistent in our messaging and our lead-free “brand”.  If we can develop some logos and outreach pieces that multiple states can use, we will send a more consistent message to anglers.  We’ve already talked to folks in the northeast, and next week we will be able to expand that conversation.  Check back again!  I’ll post the highlights of the conference after I return.


Stearns Pond: Loon Necropsy

Stearns Pond Sweden, ME Found June 29, 2014

Stearns Pond
Sweden, ME
Found June 29, 2014

Loon necropsies provide us with a good way to assess threats to the loon population.. Through these necropsies, we learned that lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for our loons.  Each necropsy begins with an x- ray, followed by an internal exam of all the organs.  This loon was found this summer on Stearns pond in Sweden Maine.  Based on the initial x-ray, I thought this bird died from lead poisoning because I could see  fishing gear in his gizzard. However, none of this fishing gear ended up being lead.  With every necropsy, you start by examining the external features of the bird. We look for any external wounds, broken bones, dislocated joints, and external parasites. In the case of this bird, I found abrasions and bruising on his feet and around his left eye. He had no broken bones or dislocated joints and I found no external parasites.

Both his left and right feet were bruised. They both had abrasions as well.

Both his left and right feet had scrapes and bruises.

Next, we examine the internal anatomy for any abnormalities. These include any discoloration, lesions, pre-mortem clots, parasites, organ enlargement or atropy and foreign bodies. This loon was  in great body condition. He  had plenty of fat and  great muscle mass. One of the first abnormalities I noted was abdominal bruising on the lower part of his body. He also had a large pre-mortem clot on the underside of his sternum, as well as a lot of blood in his air sacs.

The lower part of his abdomen was bruised.

The lower part of his abdomen was bruised.

He had a large pre-mortem blood clot under his sternum on the left side of his body.

He had a large pre-mortem blood clot under his sternum on the left side of his body.

His organs, including his heart, lungs, liver and pancreas looked normal. The exception was his spleen, which was greatly enlarged. We confirmed  his sex as well. Female loons only have  a single ovary, whereas the males have two testes. Based on all the abnormalities found, we try and come up with cause of death. In this case, the bruising on his abdomen, combined with the large blood clot on his sternum and an enlarged spleen suggests blunt force trauma.  While it is  difficult to say exactly what caused his injuries,  he could have been hit by a boat or even crash landed somewhere.  If you find a dead or injured loon, please call our loon hotline:  (207)-781- 6180 ext. 275.