MOULTONBOROUGH, NH – The first two loon deaths from ingested lead fishing tackle in 2017 were documented in New Hampshire in May, less than a week apart. The first lead-poisoned loon was discovered on May 21, 2017, on Massabesic Lake in Auburn, NH. The sick loon was captured by NH Fish and Game Conservation Officer Geoff Pushee and taken to wildlife rehabilitator Maria Colby of Wings of Dawn Sanctuary in Henniker. An x-ray at VCA Capital Area Veterinary Emergency and Specialty (CAVES) showed fishing tackle in the loon’s gizzard, and the loon died overnight. A necropsy performed at the New Hampshire Diagnostic Veterinary Laboratory confirmed that the loon had ingested a lead sinker.
Photo caption: Lead fishing tackle remains the largest known killer of adult loons in New Hampshire. Photo courtesy of Kittie Wilson.
A second lead-poisoned loon was found in northern New Hampshire on May 26. The loon was picked up by Conservation Officer Glen Lucas and then transferred to Maria Colby. An x-ray of this loon showed an assortment of ingested fishing tackle, and a blood test revealed lead levels more than three times the threshold for clinical lead poisoning, so the loon was euthanized. This loon is awaiting necropsy to determine the size and type of fishing tackle ingested.
New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to restrict the sale and use of small lead fishing tackle to protect loons in 2000. A new law increasing protection for loons from lead fishing jigs went into effect last year. Current law bans the sale and freshwater use of lead sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less, regardless of length or attachments within the state of New Hampshire.
Loons can accidentally ingest small split-shot lead sinkers along with pebbles used to break up ingested fish. Both of the dead loons found this year had an assortment of hooks, fishing line, and wires from fishing tackle in their gizzards, as well. Loons are unlikely to mistake a lead object with these other tackle items attached for a pebble to ingest as grit, indicating these deaths were likely due to current fishing activity.
July and August are typically the months when lead-poisoned loons are most often found, correlating with peak lake use and fishing pressure in New Hampshire, so officials find it concerning that two loons died before Memorial Day weekend.
The NH Fish and Game Department and The Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) urge anglers to obey the law and stop using lead tackle. This is an important measure to protect loons and other lake wildlife. Poisoning from lead fishing tackle is the leading cause of adult loon mortality in New Hampshire. According to the LPC, the loss of so many adults from this preventable cause of mortality has inhibited the recovery of loons in New Hampshire.
“Because loons do not breed on average until 6-7 years of age and have low reproductive success, it is important that adult loons survive for many years to produce surviving young,” said Harry Vogel, Senior Biologist and Executive Director at LPC. “The loss of an adult loon may also result in the loss of that loon’s nest or chicks, which further impacts the population.”The Loon Preservation Committee and NH Fish and Game are part of a region-wide initiative called Fish Lead Free (www.fishleadfree.org), which is dedicated to providing resources for anglers across New England to help them make the switch to lead-free tackle. Safe alternatives to lead tackle, made of steel, tungsten, tin, bismuth and many other materials, are effective and readily available. Learn more tips and tactics for fishing lead-free at www.wildnh.com/fishing/get-the-lead-out.html.
Collection receptacles for old lead tackle can be found at all New Hampshire Fish and Game offices and at The Loon Center in Moultonborough.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (www.wildnh.com) 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.
The Loon Preservation Committee (www.loon.org) monitors 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.