Get the lead out……save our loons

Recently, wildlife officials in New Hampshire reported the third documented lead poisoned loon death this year.  It was discovered in July on Lake Winnipesaukee where the bird beached itself.  It was transported to an animal hospital for a blood test and x-rays.  Radiographs showed a lead-headed fishing jig and blood lead levels were at toxic levels, so the loon was immediately euthanized.  The link between loon deaths and lead poisoning first emerged in the 1980s.  Necropsies performed by the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine on dead adult common loons in New Hampshire revealed that 49% had the remains of lead sinkers and jigs in their gizzards and had died from lead poisoning. A loon will die approximately two to four weeks after ingesting lead tackle.   Officials believe it is 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.   Necropsies of dead adult loons show that lead tackle accounts for more deaths than every other human factor combined. The loss of so many adults from this preventable cause of mortality has inhibited the recovery of loons in New Hampshire, according to the Loon Preservation Committee. “Because loons do not breed 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. The loss of an adult loon may also result in the loss of that loon’s nest or chicks, further negatively impacting the population.” Over the objections of some sportsmen, Governor Hassan signed a bill (SB 89) in 2013 that increases protection for loons from lead fishing tackle by banning the sale and freshwater use of lead fishing sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less.

 

This bill will be implemented in June of 2016, but N.H. Fish and Game and the LPC are urging everyone to remove lead tackle from their tackle boxes now.  Safe alternatives to lead tackle are weights made of steel, tungsten, tin, bismuth, and other materials.  They are effective and readily available.

In Massachusetts, it has been illegal to use any lead fishing sinkers and lead jigs weighing less than 1 ounce in inland waters since January 1, 2012.  Prohibited tackle includes lead sinkers and jigs weighing less than an ounce regardless of whether they are painted, coated with rubber, covered by attached “skirts” or some other material.  *****

With the hot weather upon us, trout fishing in our local rivers has pretty much shut down until the fall for many local anglers.  They don’t want to overly stress the trout which are trying to survive the low, hot water conditions.  One exception is the Deerfield River which has frequent cold water releases from the bottom of the dams and the fishing is good all summer long.

Fuad Ameen, of Pittsfield, former writer for Western Mass Angler Newspaper, sent in this article which is a warning for us all.  Many thanks, Fuad.

“What is unusual about the Deerfield is the fact that many dams impound the waters and regulate the flow of the river daily.  This everyday release of the water causes the river to rise quickly and this rapid rise can jeopardize your wading safely back to shore.  The fly caster must be alert and use extreme caution when in the stream.

 

Fishing close to the dams, the water rises quicker and is even more dangerous.  The incident that follows happened to me one summer evening.  My friend, Max, and I were fishing the famous “Old Mill Dam Hole” near the entrance to the Hoosac Tunnel in Zoar, MA.

 

The “Old Mill Dam Hole “is in a section of the river close to one of the dams.  Max was upstream from me, while I was casting off of some submerged timbers in the main pool.  In low water, the pool was perhaps eight feet in depth.

 

I heard Max’s warning whistle first and then what sounded like a strong wind blowing pierced my ears.  That sound of wind was actually the rushing and rising waters coming around the bend and quickly filling the “Old Mill Dam Pool”.

 

Making my way back off of the sunken beams, I saw several large trout rising at the tail end of the pool.  Feed was washing down and the trout were quick to surface.  I looked back at Max and yelled “watch me take some of these”.  But in that split second, I had let my guard down and stepped off of the sunken timbers.  I was quickly caught in the roaring currents.  As I sank, I knew I would have but one chance to surface as my waders quickly filled.  I doubled up and when my feet hit bottom, I surged upward with all of the strength I could muster.  Just my head broke the surface and I was being carried downstream in the raging currents.  My rod and cap were gone.

 

Max had witnessed my distress and was running along the shore trying to catch up with me.  He picked up and extended a long branch on the first bend and the currents pushed me towards Max.  I grabbed and hung on to that branch for dear life and was dragged out.

 

I have fished the Deerfield my entire life and knew of the dangers of the rising waters, yet could have lost my life that day.

 

After dark, I returned to the “Old Mill Dam Hole” as the waters had receded.   I recovered my favorite rod for future adventures.  My fishing cap was lost forever”……Fuad Ameen

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