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Lead Sinkers: Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Ecological Health Effects
Regulations & Policies
Alternative Products
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A sinker is a weight used in fishing to force a lure or bait to sink more rapidly to the bottom of the water, where larger fish typically feed. A jig is a specific type of fishing lure that consists of a lead sinker as a weight and a single hook. Lead sinkers and jigs are commonly used by many anglers in different types of fishing and when they fall off the line, the line breaks, or they are improperly disposed of in the water, they can have harmful effects on wildlife. Lead is a toxic substance - a health hazard for both humans and wildlife - therefore, more governments and organizations are promoting the use of safer, non-toxic sinker alternatives, which are increasing in both supply and demand.

Lead is toxic to all fish and wildlife, with the most detrimental effects of lead in fishing gear occurring in water birds, which can ingest lead sinkers that are left in the environment. Although lead sinkers are the most common piece of lead-containing fishing gear ingested by water birds, many other types of fishing gear can also contain lead, including split shot, worm weights, jigs, bass rigs, and lead-containing fishing lines.1

Loons are the species most susceptible to the affects of lead sinkers because loons inhabit the same areas where lead sinkers are used - riparian zones where there are plenty of fish. They also practice "pebble-eating" to help digest their food and may ingest lead sinkers in the process (see Ecological Health Effects). Loons are migratory birds, spending their winters along the coasts of North America, and summers throughout Canada, Alaska, and the Northeast (primarily in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont) and in the northern parts of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.2 Therefore, it is not a coincidence that these are the primary states that have responded to the effects of lead sinkers on loons and their environment through regulations and education/outreach methods (see Regulations and Policies).

Last Updated: 01/03/08

1Bass Pro Shop
Split shot: a type of sinker with a groove along its length to hold the fishing line; often used with live bait.
Worm weight: a weight that is cylindrical in shape - narrow at one end and wide out at the base; bullet-shaped.
Jig: a specific type of fishing lure that consists of a lead sinker for weight and a single hook.
Bass rig: a three-way swivel rig with one end attached to the main fishing line, one end attached to the weight (sinker), and one end attached to the bait or lure.
Fishing line: a length of cord to which the leader and float and sinker and hook are attached.
2Common Loon Range Map


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Hub Last Updated: 12/4/2012