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Debate on lead sinkers and loons continues

State House Bureau

April 26. 2013 12:29AM

CONCORD - A House committee will have to decide if the cost of saving loons by banning lead sinkers and jigs weighing one once or less is too high.

More than 100 people went to the public hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 89, which bans lead sinkers and jigs and establishes a penalty for selling them, to let the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee know how they feel.

The bill has pitted fishermen against conservationists and both sides turned out their supporters for the hearing, many wearing stickers saying "Vote for NH Loons."

Supporters of the bill said the state began banning lead sinkers in 1999 and now needs to finish the job as the number of loons dying from lead poisoning reached higher levels in 2010.

The loons swallow lead sinkers and jibs in the fish they eat and the substance goes through their bodies, killing them in two to four weeks, officials say.

"We've banned lead paint because we want to protect ourselves. We've banned lead from gasoline because we want to protect ourselves," said bill sponsor Sen. Bob Odell, R-Lempster. "We should ban lead (from tackle) to protect our loons and our environment."

But opponents said there is no guarantee banning the sinkers and jigs will stop loons from dying of lead poisoning.

"Someone show me the scientific data that this is needed," said Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, "that is all I'm asking here today."

Opponents also said the ban would be a huge financial burden on fishermen who will have to replace their lead tackle with non-toxic items if the bill passes.

Under the bill, the ban would begin June 1, 2015, which supporters say will give retailers time to sell the stock they currently carry and fishermen time to use their lead tackle. The bill allows retailers to sell to out-of-state customers after the ban, but not in-state.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, said the bill will eliminate guesswork by banning all lead sinkers and jigs of one once or less regardless of what other elements are in them.

The House Republicans leadership opposes the bill, with Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, telling the committee the bill creates more questions than answers.

"I not opposed because I don't love loons, I want to see loons survive," she said. ""If I thought this would solve the problem, I would (support it,) but that is not the case."

She said many working families are concerned about the cost of the legislation, adding, many of those families are considering not fishing, a family tradition in New Hampshire.

State Fish and Game Department Executive Director Glenn Normandeau and the Fish and Game Commission opposed the bill.

Normandeau said when the House retained a nearly identical bill last year, members asked his department to try and find a non-legislative solution to the issue.

He said he put together a steering committee that has met several times to try to bring both sides together and find common ground.

"I asked the Loon Preservation Committee to refrain for at least a year," Normandeau said, "but they felt the need to move ahead again and now everyone is back in their corners."

When asked by several committee members if the steering committee was making progress, Normandeau acknowledged "we're not very far along, but this is polarizing the situation."

He said there are many reasons loons die, not just lead, although he said there is no question that lead kills loons, but it also kills other birds that don't have the cache loons do.

"The biggest issue for birds is habitat destruction," he said.

However, Harry Vogel, chief biologist and executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee, disagreed.

Studies done by the committee indicate that lead is responsible for 49 percent of adult loon deaths, he said, which is five times greater than the next closest cause.

He told the committee that the greatest number of loons die from lead poisoning in July and August when boating and fishing activity is highest, which indicates the loons are ingesting the lead from current activity not from old sinkers on lake bottoms as some suggested.

Former Rep. Dennis Abbott, D-Newmarket, supported the bill and said it is time for the state to ban lead sinkers and jigs.

"You can study this until hell and gone," Abbott told the committee, "but at the end of the day you are going to reach the conclusion that lead kills loons."

Lawmakers have to decide if they are going to take lead out of the water, he said. "Everyone agrees lead is a killer and we ought to get rid of it," Abbott said. "The financial aspect of this does not make a good argument."

The committee is expected to vote on the bill in the next couple of weeks. The bill passed the Senate without decent.

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