Lead-free fishing tackle: Get the lead out

Man holding a perch

Lead is toxic

X-ray of dead loon showing the outline of several pieces of fishing tackle Lead poisons loons when they swallow lead tackle that anglers lost. One lead sinker will kill a loon. One-in-five loons die a slow and painful death of lead poisoning from fishing tackle. And it's not just loons. Lead poisons eagles, swans, and even some mammals as well.

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

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. Lead-free alternatives are available, and perform as well as traditional tackle. 

What you can do

  • Find lead-free fishing tackle in our manufacturer's directory
  • Don't throw old fishing gear into the water or shore. 
  • Properly dispose of unwanted lead tackle
  • Don't put a lead sinker in your mouth. Use pliers to attach sinkers to your fishing line. 
  • Wash your hands after handling lead sinkers or cleaning out your tackle box. 
  • Spread the word. Tell your friends about the problem. Encourage them to switch to lead-free sinkers and jigs. 
  • Ask your favorite retailers to stock lead-free fishing tackle.

Get involved

  • Partner with us to host a tackle exchange in your community.
  • Follow Get the Lead Out on Facebook and Instagram for information on upcoming events.

 How we can help you

  • Invite us to present at a school or community organization.
  • Request our fact sheet to spread the message to others. 


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 2023.

The MPCA had a similar program in the early 2000s. This program held over 200 tackle exchanges that collected 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 Technical Implementation Group to implement the Get the Lead Out campaign to help restore the loon population.