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March 26. 2013 7:29PM

Loon advocates renew call for lead fishing jigs ban

MOULTONBOROUGH - Loon preservation groups and lake associations in the state are for the second year in a row backing legislation to gradually eliminate lead fishing jigs, which they say are threatening the state's precious loon population.

Opponents to the legislation, including several state and national bass fishing groups, describe the bill as virtually identical to one tabled by legislators in 2012, and say it should be defeated again.

The Loon Preservation Committee and the New Hampshire Lakes Association are backing Senate Bill 89, which would prohibit the use and sale of toxic lead fishing tackle and ban sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less, which the loon committee claims is the largest known cause of New Hampshire adult loon mortality.

The bill, which has passed the Senate and will soon come before the House, would take effect in 2015, giving anglers time to find non-lead tackle, which is widely available, said Tom O'Brien of the lakes association.

From 1989 to 2011, 124 adult loons were killed by lead fishing tackle on state water bodies, and lead tackle remains a daily threat to adult loons, according to attorney Sheridan Brown, a consultant to the loon committee.

The committee, which has built a network of 1,500 members and volunteers dedicated to safeguarding loons and other threatened and endangered species since it was formed in 1975, said the laws need to be changed.

Backers of the legislation are hopeful it will pass, saying legislators seem more informed about the bill this year, though again the state's Fish and Game Commission is not supporting it.

Opponents of the bill say they have evidence showing that loons are not as heavily affected by lead fishing tackle as the loon committee claims.

"To us, the scientific studies show the loons are picking up smaller stuff that has lead in it, nothing near the size of a jig," said Dick Smith of the New Hampshire Bass Federation.

Smith said a prohibition on lead jigs would affect more than 230,000 fishing enthusiasts every year in the state.

"From what we understand, the loon population is fairly stable," Smith said. "Even if they are right and a few loons get killed, our concerns should be with those who want to fish in our state."

dseufert@newstote.com

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