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March 24. 2012 11:37PM

The jig is up and it's strictly for all the loons in the state


A.J. Nute of AJ's Bait and Tackle in Meredith holds a fishing jig that contains lead. (DAN SEUFERT)

Backers of a bill that would outlaw lead fishing jigs to protect the state's loons have proposed an amendment they say addresses the concerns of bass fishermen, the primary users of jigs.

The New Hampshire Lakes Association and the Loon Preservation Committee proposed Senate Bill 224 in January to expand current restrictions on the use of lead tackle by banning the use of any lead jig weighing 1 ounce or less. The bill is needed, proponents say, because 50 percent of the loon mortalities documented from 1989 to 2010 in the state resulted from ingested lead fishing tackle, and in 2010, 11 loons died from ingesting lead from fishing tackle, according to loon committee data.

New Hampshire's loon population went down from 275 pairs in 2010 to 271 pairs in 2011, and the committee said lead was the cause.

Opponents of the bill say it would cost the state's bass fisherman hundreds of dollars to replace their lead jigs and cost the state thousands of bass fisherman from out of state who would go elsewhere to fish. They also dispute the loon committee's data on jig-related loon deaths and have questioned how the law would be enforced.

The bill is expected to go before the full Senate this week, and then to the House if passed.

To respond to the enforcement question, backers of the bill offered an amendment that would change the wording from a “weight-based” ban, which would require weighing equipment to measure, to a “measurement-based” ban.

The amendment, which passed the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources by a vote of 4-1 last Thursday, would change the restriction from any jig weighing less than an ounce to any jig of less than 2 inches.

“We agreed that the weight-based system would be unenforceable,” said Tom O'Brien, president of the New Hampshire Lakes Association. “But there are larger jigs, so even doing this gives up some loon mortality.”

Bass fishermen see that as a change for the worse, said Dick Smith, the legislation officer for the New Hampshire Bass Federation.

“By changing it to an exact size, you're making it more restrictive,” he said. “And the original bill wipes out every jig we've got.”

The association also told the committee that extensive peer-reviewed scientific research specific to New Hampshire lakes makes it clear that loons are dying from ingesting lead introduced from fishing. Opponents of the bill say they have studies from other states casting doubt on loon mortality rates caused by lead jigs.

But the economic effects of the bill are among its most contentious aspects. Opponents say SB 224 would leave the average bass fisherman with hundreds of dollars worth of illegal jigs and would cost jig sellers thousands in lost sales of jigs in their inventories.

Backers of the bill are proposing a three-year phase-in of the law that would allow bass fisherman to switch to jigs made with alternate metals, such as tungsten and bismuth. And most fishermen will buy new tackle every three years or so anyway, O'Brien said.

“They say it will eliminate a whole class of jigs, and yes, we are trying to change the metals,” O'Brien said. “They believe (the bill) will eliminate the jigs entirely. That's not the case. Given more time, the industry will provide non-lead jigs, they're being made all over the world now.”

Smith said most bass fishermen in America live in Southern states, “and those states will never outlaw jigs,” he said. “I honestly don't see the industry making the conversion (to alternate metals for jigs).”


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