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Lead Sinkers: Regulations & Policies
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Ecological Health Effects
Regulations & Policies
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Many states in the Northeast have imposed bans on the sale or use of lead sinkers and jigs, mainly in response to the negative impacts they have on wildlife. However, the regulations vary widely among the states. Tufts University reported that, based on their research, loons typically ingest sinkers that weigh between a quarter and one ounce or jigs that are less than one inch long and a half-inch wide - possibly because these are similar in size to the pebbles that they ingest.9 Therefore, the most conservative states ban lead sinkers and jigs weighing up to one ounce or that are less than an inch long. While some states only ban the sale of lead sinkers and not jigs or ban the use of lead sinkers in only certain water bodies, other states' restrictions cover a wider range by including all lead-containing gear and/or a larger number of water bodies. Some state regulations even specify enforcement actions, such as penalties or fines for non-compliance - both for the store that sells the banned equipment and the end-user.

The list below summarizes the restrictions on lead sinkers in the Northeast states:

Maine: In January 2002, Maine banned the sale of lead sinkers weighing a half ounce or less.

Massachusetts: In June 2000, Massachusetts banned the use of all lead sinkers in the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs, the primary habitats for loons in the state. In the 2007-2008 legislative session, the Massachusetts Senate is expected to evaluate an amendment (Senate Bill No. 466) proposing to prohibit the use of all fishing gear containing any amount of lead.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire initially banned the use of lead sinkers weighing one ounce or less and of lead jigs less than one inch long in all freshwater. They followed up with a ban on the sale of lead sinkers weighing one ounce or less and of lead jigs less than one inch long. These regulations became effective in January 2006.

New York: In May 2004, New York banned the sale of lead sinkers weighing a half ounce or less.

Vermont: The state of Vermont banned the sale of lead sinkers weighing a half ounce or less in January 2006 and the use of lead sinkers weighing a half ounce or less in January 2007.

Other states have also regulated the sale or use of lead sinkers and jigs. California requires labels for sinkers and other fishing gear that contain lead or zinc. In 2003, Minnesota proposed a ban on the use and sale of lead sinkers. Although this legislation did not pass, the state is now focused on providing outreach and education for anglers and promoting lead-free alternatives. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife restricts the use of lead sinkers in wildlife refuges where loons and trumpeter swans breed, and bans them totally in Redrocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the National Elk Refugee, and Yellowstone National Park.

Other countries also recognize the problem with lead sinkers. Denmark has made the use of lead in fishing tackle illegal. Great Britain bans the use of lead sinkers weighing less than one ounce, and Canada bans the use of lead sinkers weighing less than 50 grams, which is equivalent to 1.76 ounces.

Restrictions on Lead Fishing Tackle
State Fishing Tackle Limitations
Lead Sinkers Lead Jigs Other Lead Tackle Sale Use
Weight Size Weight Size Location
Maine X     1/2 oz. or less        
Massachusetts X             Quabbin & Wachusett Reservoirs
New Hampshire X X   1 oz. or less 1 inch or less 1 oz. or less 1 inch or less Freshwater
New Jersey                
New York X     1/2 oz. or less        
Rhode Island                
Vermont X     1/2 oz. or less   1/2 oz. or less    

Last Updated: 01/03/08

9Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine


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