Fishing Industry Reps Rip Partial WA Lead Ban

Fishing industry representatives are deriding a partial lead-fishing-tackle ban on a dozen lakes in Washington that will go into effect next spring.

The new rules passed last weekend to protect rare common loons from ingesting weights and jigs and dying from lead toxicosis missed the mark on several levels, they say.

“Saturday will go down in Washington history as a landmark day in the restriction of fishing opportunity for all outdoorsmen, not just trout fishing,” says Marc Marcantonio, a former fisheries biologist, tournament bass angler and lead-tackle manufacturer who lives in Steilacoom. “This was not a scientific decision, but a political one.”

American Sportfishing Association vice president Gordon Robertson says the issue of lead and loons is an emotional one, but “in reality, only a small number of loons die each year from ingesting a lead sinker or jig. Other mortality factors – shoreline development, pollutants such as sewage and run-off – account for the vast majority of loon and other waterfowl deaths.”

In a press release, he also says that loon advocates can point to only nine deaths in the past 13 years as directly attributable to swallowing lead tackle. Only two of those were on the lakes in question, Marcantonio says, a total he calls “statistically insignificant.”

The new rules, passed unanimously by the eight members of the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission in attendance Dec. 4 (Chairwoman Miranda Wecker was absent), will prohibit anglers from using lead weights and jigs measuring an inch and a half or less along their longest axis at:

Ferry and Swan Lakes, Ferry County

Calligan and Hancock Lakes, King County

Bonaparte, Blue and Lost Lakes, Okanogan County

Big Meadow, South Skookum and Yocum Lakes, Pend Oreille County

Pierre Lake, Stevens County

Hozomeen Lake, Whatcom County.

Commissioners also banned flies with lead at Long Lake in Ferry County.

All 13 waters are known loon breeding grounds. They’re mostly mountain lakes stocked by the state with trout fry, though at least two get catchables annually and one of those, Pierre, also features bass fishing. Some have U.S. Forest Service campgrounds. The three in Western Washington, however, are difficult to access.

BLUE STARS INDICATE THE LOCATION OF THE LAKES WHERE PARTIAL LEAD RESTRICTIONS WILL GO INTO EFFECT MAY 1, 2011. (WDFW)

You will still be able to fish them with spinners, spoons, plugs, plastics, unweighted flies and nonlead-based jigs. Nonlead-based weights will be allowed too.

The original proposal came up last year and would have outlawed lead weights of 1/2 ounce or less and jigs under an inch and a half, but the commission followed WDFW staff advice and tabled the proposal for more study.

A citizen’s advisory group was formed, including members of the sportfishing and loon advocacy communities. Then, last summer, after looking at science WDFW had collected, it was asked to rate four regulatory options, from a complete ban on all lead tackle at the 13 lakes to two different partial bans to keeping all gear options legal. The poles — total and no bans — got the most support.

While Marcantonio, Robertson and others question the science, one of the commissioners points to it as the reason he voted for the partial restriction.

“While I supported it for conservation of loons, I did this because of good data and good science,” Commissioner Rollie Schmitten of Lake Wenatchee told this blog earlier this week. “I would be cautious about a proliferation of other similar proposals without good data and good science.”

However, Marcantonio says a 2010 paper on loons was ignored. It’s a 187-page dissertation by University of Massachusetts-Amherst grad student Kyle P. McCarthy that evaluates what disturbs loons at remote Lake Umbagog on the New Hampshire-Maine border and how global warming is moving the species north. Washington is at the southern edge of their range.

The fishery advocates are also disappointed that the Fish & Wildlife Commission passed on their alternate approach to dealing with the issue.

It “incorporated a comprehensive community-based, scientific study of loon and waterfowl mortality and an education program for fishing and boating enthusiasts to minimize disturbances and threats to loons and other water birds,” says the press release from ASA as well as The Washington Chapter of the Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society, The Bass Federation, the Cascade Musky Association and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

“Our proposal provided a measured and studied approach to a decision that should not have been made until adequate data was available,” said Mark Byrne with Washington B.A.S.S.

The fear is that the new rules are a wedge to open more restrictive regulations that will extend well beyond a baker’s dozen of somewhat remote lakes.

“The environmentalists will use this decision in many future opportunities as leverage to stop the use of hooks, line, and anything else that they can think of by saying it may hurt loons, or whales, or any other animal they can imagine,” argues Marcantonio. “Anglers and hunters have no idea how they were just stabbed in the back by the very agency that is supposed to serve them. Director Phil Anderson wants support from anglers and he treats them like this?”

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