MOULTONBOROUGH — On Friday, a Loon Preservation Committee biologist collected the third documented lead-poisoned loon from New Hampshire waters this year, this one on Lake Winnipesaukee.
The loon was collected near the Lanes End Marina in Melvin Village after it beached itself. It was taken to Meadow Pond Animal Hospital for a blood test and X-rays. Radiographs showed a lead-headed fishing jig and blood lead levels were at toxic levels. The loon was immediately euthanized.
Loons ingest lead sinkers and jigs — or fish that have swallowed them — which often proves fatal. A loon will die from lead poisoning approximately two to four weeks after ingesting lead tackle, according to N.H. Fish and Game.
“It seems likely that loons are eating fish that have tackle in or on them. As the acidic juices in the bird’s gizzard break down the food, the lead is also broken down and gets into the bloodstream of the bird,” said Emily Preston, a wildlife biologist with the N.H. Fish and Game Department. “The good news is that using alternatives to lead tackle should provide immediate relief to the loon population.”
Necropsies of dead adult loons show that lead tackle accounts for more deaths than every other human factor combined. This has inhibited the recovery of loons in New Hampshire, according to the LPC.
“Because loons do not breed until 6 or 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 chick, further negatively impacting the population.”
To help address this problem, Fish and Game convened a Lead and Loon Working Group in 2013. The idea was to provide a forum for diverse partners to work toward the common goal of motivating all anglers to change to lead-free tackle.
Organizations currently participating include Fish and Game, The Loon Preservation Committee, N.H. Lakes Association, N.H. Fish and Game Commission, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, N.H. Department of Environmental Services, N.H. Lakes Management Council, N.H. Audubon and US Fish and Wildlife Service. All are contributing to outreach efforts across the state.
“Lead is a known factor that we have the ability to address. It is something we can choose to change,” said Laura Ryder, education programs supervisor at Fish and Game.
The Lead and Loon Working Group is reaching out to anglers and providing information to help them choose alternatives to lead fishing tackle.
Laws are being strengthened to encourage the switch. New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to restrict the sale and use of small lead fishing tackle to protect loons.
In 2013, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill that increases protection for loons from lead fishing tackle by banning the sale and freshwater use of lead fishing sinkers and jigs (lead-weighted hooks) weighing 1 ounce or less. This bill will be implemented in June 2016, but N.H. Fish and Game and The Loon Preservation Committee are urging everyone to remove lead tackle from their tackle boxes now.
“Switching to lead-alternative tackle is the right thing to do, not just for the common loon recovery, but also for any other wildlife with similar habits that may also be vulnerable to ingesting lead sinkers and jigs,” said Jason Smith, Chief of Inland Fisheries at the Fish and Game Department. “We always have choices, and this choice can help the common loon to make a more solid recovery.”