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Man holding a perch

Lead is toxic

The current national estimate is 25% of adult common loon deaths are due to lead poisoning after ingesting lead fishing tackle.

Once sickened with lead poisoning, loons suffer a slow and painful death. Lead also poisons raptors, swans, and some mammals.

How lead tackle ends up inside a loon

  • Loons eat a fish with ingested or attached tackle.
  • Loons grab your bait or fish from your fishing line.
  • They scoop up lead sinkers at the bottom of lake when gathering pebbles to aid in their digestion.

How to know if your tackle is lead

X-ray of dead loon showing the outline of several pieces of fishing tackle
This X-ray of a dead loon shows that the bird ingested lead fishing tackle.

The packaging will have a lead warning on it. If you no longer have the packaging, here are tips that may help.

  • The reality is that most fishing tackle with any density to it, especially older tackle, contains lead, based on current and historic trends in the tackle industry.
  • Lead is a dense but soft metal that is easy to mold and shape. Using pliers is a good way to test this out.
  • Lead is gray and dull. It will leave a gray mark if you scratch it on paper. If there is paint, it will still be able to leave a gray mark after the paint layer is scratched.

Lead-free alternatives

Anglers can choose lead-free materials when shopping for fishing tackle. Popular options include tungsten, steel, tin, bismuth/tin, and glass. Lead-free alternatives are also effective. In the case of tungsten, it performs much better than lead because it sinks faster, is denser, and more sensitive.

What you can do

  • Buy and use lead-free fishing tackle. Find lead-free fishing tackle in our manufacturer's directory.
  • Properly recycle unwanted lead tackle at your county household hazardous waste facility. Reach out to your county household hazardous waste facility for more information.
  • Spread the word. Tell your friends about the problem. Encourage them to switch to lead-free tackle.
  • Ask your favorite retailers to stock lead-free fishing tackle.
  • Lead is toxic to humans, especially children. Be cautious when handling and using lead tackle to minimize exposure from lead and lead dusts. Wash your hands and avoid putting lead tackle in your mouth.

Ways to get involved

About our program

Get the Lead Out is an educational program to protect and restore the population of common loons in Minnesota by reducing their exposure to lead-based fishing tackle. This outreach effort will run from 2020 to 2024.

The MPCA had a similar program in the early 2000s. This program held over 200 tackle collections that gathered over 8,000 lbs. of lead, distributed 50,000 sample packets of lead-free tackle, and created displays of lead-free tackle at retail stores.

Project funding. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill directly affected between 600 and 1,000 common loons and indirectly affected more loons in the years after the disaster. The Gulf of Mexico is a primary wintering area for common loons from Minnesota. Through a process known as Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the Deepwater Horizon Trustees assessed natural resources injuries that resulted from the 2010 oil spill and entered into a settlement agreement with BP. The MPCA was awarded $1.27 million by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group to implement the Get the Lead Out campaign to help restore the loon population.