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Fishing tackle bill goes over like lead balloon

Wed., Jan. 18, 2012, 8:45 p.m.

Sporting-goods retailers got a sinking feeling this week as the Washington Legislature turned attention to a bill that would ban the sale of fishing gear containing an ounce or less of lead.

Passage would affect a lunker share of the tackle sold year-round for use at inland waters, including split-shot sinkers and jigs as well as many spinners and plugs.

A hearing scheduled for today in the House Committee on Environment was postponed until sometime next week because of by the blizzard that hit Olympia.

But lawmakers are likely to face another storm of protest from fishing retailers and sport anglers.

Calls have been coming in this week to the office of Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, one of the bill’s sponsors. Moscoso aide Michele Meaker Pin has been offering this background on the measure:

House Bill 2241, introduced by request of a Moscoso constituent, restricts the sale of some products that contain mercury, as well as some lead fishing tackle.

The bill is a revision of a measure that failed several years ago. The major change: It would prohibit sale of the lead tackle, but not the use of it.

The law would be enforced at the sales level by the Department of Ecology. The Department of Fish and Wildlife would have nothing to do with it in the field.

“No one would come after fishermen,” Meaker Pin said. “They could still use lead tackle.”

But retailers would feel the pinch.

Sporting-goods stores would not be allowed to sell the restricted lead tackle in Spokane, but local anglers could drive a short way east to a well-known outdoor retailer and buy the lead goods there.

“We already stock nontoxic weights and stuff for people who fish the lakes up north where lead is banned to protect the loons,” said John Kallas of the White Elephant Store in the Valley.

“But we sell a tremendous amount of lead gear under an ounce for fishing our local lakes. I’m sure (the lawmakers) want to do good for the environment, but I’m not sure this is necessary.”

Fishing industry representatives argued two years ago against a proposal to ban certain lead tackle at 13 lakes where loon nesting occurs. But they came on board with the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision to enact the restrictions last year to prevent lead poisoning in common loons at those critical lakes.

One lead sinker or jig left in a fish that breaks away from an angler is enough to kill a loon that ingests the fish.

Carl Burke, lobbyist for the National Sportfishing Industry Association, said manufacturers and retailers have seen no science that suggests they should support further restrictions on lead tackle.

“We’re trying to come up with solutions that protect wildlife without hurting the industry or the sport,” he said.

Proponents of the ban say it would create jobs for Washington manufacturers shifting to meet new demand for tackle made from nontoxic substances.

Burke disagrees. Moving from lead to nontoxic substitutes such as tungsten simply farms jobs and environmental havoc to China, he said. Compared with lead, tungsten requires far more heat – and fossil fuels – to melt into molds.

“It wouldn’t be a clean victory to ban lead,” he said.

Last year, a Washington law went into effect banning tire shops from using lead weights for balancing wheels.

Tire stores saw a change in their balance sheets. “The extra cost of steel over a year amounted to the cost of having another employee,” said Troy Alton of Troy’s Tires.

But few motorists noticed, since there’s no performance difference and the extra cost – steel weights are about twice as expensive as lead – is hidden.

Anglers, on the other hand, would be directly affected by HB 2241. They wouldn’t be able to buy their favorite tackle in the state, and the substitutes are different.

Tungsten, bismuth and tin are more expensive than lead. Tin is the most practical for manufacturers, but it’s about 25 percent less dense, so a bigger hunk of tin is needed to equal the same weight of lead.

“Most fishermen wouldn’t notice the difference too much in a lure up to about one-eighth ounce, but after that the size difference is more obvious,” said Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait Co.

Ramsey said his company sees the trend toward getting the lead out of the environment and has positioned itself for change by testing and adding nontoxic alternatives to its line of lures.

“Our Rooster Tail spinner makes up more than half of our company’s business and we already offer a tin alternative,” he said. “We just don’t sell many of them.

He pointed out that lead in many lures, such as plugs, is encapsulated in plastic or durable coating and not a threat to wildlife.

“We’re as sensitive about the environment as anyone. The main thing we ask is that nothing be changed too quickly or rashly or it would be devastating to us.”

Meantime, you might want to rearrange the gold coins and jewelry in your household safe and make room for the sinkers, jigs and other tackle made from the emerging heavyweight of precious metals.

Tags: outdoors

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