In a heartbreakingly close decision last Thursday, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission voted 5-3 to oppose Senate Bill 224 to restrict the use and sale of larger lead-headed jigs in New Hampshire as amended by the New Hampshire Senate. A result like this from the state agency entrusted to protect our wildlife, and especially threatened species like our loons, is disappointing and disheartening to say the least. Thank you to all of you who made calls to Commissioners; they (and we) were impressed with the volume of calls they received, and it was almost enough to overcome the objections, many based on misinformation, that they have been hearing from the opposition. The commission's decision will make it much harder to win this critical protection for our loons in the House, but it has only strengthened our resolve to protect our loons in view of the commission's failure to do so.
Senate Bill 224 as amended by the Senate would leave existing regulations (restricting the use and sale of lead sinkers 1 ounce or less and lead jigs less than 1 inch in length) in place through 2014. In January of 2015, it would increase restrictions on the use of lead-headed jigs to include those less than 2.5 inches in length, and it would restrict the sale of those lead-headed jigs beginning in 2018. The change from a weight to a length standard and the extended phase-in period were both concessions in response to concerns raised by those opposing the bill. This amended bill will be taken up by the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee within the next two weeks.
It was gratifying to see the NH Senate grasp the significance of this issue for our cherished loons but disturbing to hear NH Fish and Game commissioners minimize the importance of lead tackle's impacts on our loon population. Some commissioners stated that loons are doing well in New Hampshire; that lead-induced mortality is occurring at low levels; and that non-lead alternatives for most of the larger-sized tackle are difficult to obtain and are very expensive. In fact, our loon population remains far below historical levels and the number of loon pairs on NH's lakes decreased in 2011, after a record high number of deaths from ingested lead tackle in 2010. This decrease occurred despite record levels of management and outreach in recent years, and we have projected continued declines as a result of a number of stressors, primarily lead deaths, unless we address these issues. As for the availability of alternative jigs, we have readily found a large variety of non-toxic jigs for virtually the same price, and sometimes for less money, than their toxic lead counterparts.
We have a steep hill to climb to gain the support of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee now that the NH Fish and Game Commission has decided to oppose the bill in its current form. We will have to work harder than ever to bring this bill out of committee with a convincing vote and then on to the final stage, a vote by the full NH House. Please contact as many of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee members as you can between now and April 19th (the earliest date at which the bill will be heard by this committee) to express your support for loons and the important protections in SB 224. If you can, please attend the hearing (we will let you know when we have a date and time) and be on record as supporting the bill, whether or not you choose to testify in support. And please follow this link to add your name to a petition in support of this critical legislation.
Numbers matter in the House; and the more people committee members hear from, the more likely they will take our concerns to heart and vote to save loons and other wildlife from this needless cause of suffering and death. I hope that, with your urging, our representatives will seize this opportunity to show that our state loves its loons, other wildlife, and anglers more than its toxic lead fishing tackle.
Please find contact information for members of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee below. Thank you for your continued support of our loons in New Hampshire!
Harry S. Vogel
Senior Biologist/Executive Director