Home Page‎ > ‎

Freshwater Lead Sinker and Jig Ban


The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) reminds all freshwater anglers that as of January 1, 2012, the use of any lead fishing sinkers and lead jigs weighing less than one ounce is now prohibited in all inland waters (freshwater) of the Commonwealth. In terms of this regulation, “lead sinker” or “lead weight” is defined as any sinker or weight made from lead that weighs less than 1 ounce. A “lead jig” is defined as any lead-weighted hook weighing less than one ounce. Prohibited tackle includes lead sinkers and jigs (weighing less than an ounce) painted, coated with some other substance or with attached “skirts”. Other types of sinkers, fishing lures, and/or fishing tackle including, artificial lures, hooks, weighted flies, lead-core, buzz-baits, spinner baits, or other weighted fishing lines may still be used for freshwater fishing. Ecologically safe alternatives to lead sinkers and lead jigs (such as steel and tin) are readily available from many sources and come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, weights, and sizes to meet every type of fishing need.

In 2009, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board unanimously voted to prohibit the use of lead sinkers and jigs weighing less than an ounce with the provision that the regulation go into effect January 1, 2012. This delay gave manufacturers and anglers time to adjust to these changes. “The regulation was implemented primarily to protect the state’s small population of Common Loon (Gavia immer),” said Dr. Mark Tisa, Assistant Director of Fisheries. Common Loons are a state listed Species of Special Concern.

Historically, the Common Loon nested in Massachusetts, but was extirpated in the late nineteenth century. In 1975, a pair of loons was discovered nesting in Quabbin Reservoir. The population has increased, and today approximately 32 territorial pairs can be found on 14 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs in the Commonwealth, the southern limit of the loon’s breeding range. Large piscivorous (fish-eating) birds that rely on sight to capture their prey, loons require relatively large nesting territories and water of high clarity; hence their population growth here is limited by the availability of this habitat.

Ingestion of lead fishing gear is the single largest cause of mortality for adult loons in fresh water in New England. Veterinarians at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine examined 483 dead adult loons and determined that approximately 44% of these birds died as the result of lead poisoning. Their research documented that ingestion of small lead sinkers and jigs accounted for approximately 79% of the lead objects recovered from loons that died from lead poisoning in fresh water. A single lead sinker or split shot can poison a loon. A bird with lead poisoning exhibits physical and behavioral changes, including loss of balance, gasping, tremors, and impaired ability to fly. The weakened bird is more vulnerable to predators and may have trouble feeding, mating, nesting, and caring for its young. A loon becomes emaciated and often dies within 2 to 3 weeks after ingesting the lead.

Loons ingest lead sinkers and lead jigs in two ways. One is when loons take minnows hooked as bait on a fishing line. The loon breaks off the line and then swallows the hook, line, swivel, and sinker or jig. A second ingestion method apparently occurs when loons ingest small pebbles from lake bottoms to help grind food in their gizzards. It appears they may inadvertently swallow lead sinkers and jigs while engaged in this activity, or are perhaps actively choosing them for some other reason (possibly because of their unique size, shape, or shine).

“Through this new conservation regulation it is possible to reduce the chance of lead poisoning of loons, a goal all sportsmen should support,” said Dr. Tisa. “Most anglers who have experienced the presence of loons would agree that sightings of these magnificent birds and the enjoyment of their iconic, eerie calls adds to the quality of any fishing experience.”

Sporting and fishing clubs, bait and tackle stores, watershed associations, marinas, and other conservation organizations can help get the message about the new regulation in several ways: making announcements at meetings, publishing the information in newsletters or email blasts, or posting a flyer announcing the lead sinker ban available from the DFW website at: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/recreation/fishing/pdf/loons_lead_sinker_flyer.pdf.