Painted turtle

With the recent fishing season opener and warming temperatures, many people are anxious to get out on the water. While you’re planning your summer water outings, consider a few reminders. Most people are aware of the dangers of lead as a toxic metal to people. However, you may not be aware of the dangers of lead tackle to wildlife including loons, bald eagles, swans, great blue herons, and snapping turtles.

Is lead really a problem?

Wildlife can ingest tackle, especially sinkers and jigs, and become ill or die from lead poisoning. Loons can mistake the tackle for pebbles, which they eat to grind their food, and just that one mistake can kill them. Eagles become poisoned by eating fish that have swallowed sinkers.

While it is understandably difficult to accurately measure the cause of death in wildlife, several studies from various parts of the U.S. indicate that it is a serious problem. One of these studies was conducted by the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota for nearly 20 years. They found lead poisoning in 138 of 650 eagles or 21% of eagles treated. A 15-year Michigan study of 186 dead loons showed that lead jig poisoning was the number one cause of death at 24%.

The good news is that there are several non-poisonous, economical alternatives to lead tackle including tungsten, glass, copper, steel, tin, bismuth, or plastic sinkers. If you take children or grandchildren fishing, you can all avoid contact with lead if you use safer tackle.

Lead tackle can be safely disposed of at Spooner area hazardous waste collection (check in late May for the summer schedule) or at one of these locations: We encourage you to share information about non-lead options with other anglers.

Fishing line options

There are four types of fishing line – monofilament, copolymer, braid, and fluorocarbon. According to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, these fishing lines can remain in the environment for 600 years and more. Any of these lines that are discarded in the water or on land or snagged in the water can entangle turtles, fish, birds and other wildlife, or if they swallow the line, they starve to death.

There is a biodegradable line that is strong and while it is stiffer than other fishing lines, it is still flexible. It begins to degrade in the second year outdoors and is completely degraded by the fifth year in the environment. Ask your fishing tackle shop to order it for you.

Fishing lines can be recycled at the Spooner DNR Service Center.

Safety on the water

Know your boat and navigation rules for your specific body of water, such as reduced speed areas to protect shoreline from erosion. With spring cold water temperatures, if you fall in or your boat capsizes, there is increased danger of hypothermia starting in as little as two minutes.

In addition to the basics of wearing U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets, having a throwable flotation device on board for boats over 16 feet and avoiding alcohol use while boating, it is a good idea to review all boating laws here

Please take a litter container along to keep track of your bait and beverage containers so they don’t end up in the water. Be respectful of all types of watercraft and water sports, especially when power boating near shore and others.

Have a safe, enjoyable summer on the water.


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