A bill that would ban the sale and purchase of small leaded fishing hooks and weights in Washington will get increasing attention in the days leading up to a public hearing in Olympia.
An action alert sent out yesterday by Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association executive director Liz Hamilton terms House Bill 2241 “a well intended, but misguided effort by environmental and bird watching groups to ban the use of lead under 1 inch in length and 1 ounce in weight in all state waters.”
If passed, it would affect the availability — but not the continued use — of a host of products, things like pinch-on weights and other sinkers as well as small jigs widely used in salmon, steelhead, trout, bass and other popular Washington sport fisheries.
NSIA’s message says that the state Fish & Wildlife Commission should set such policy, and organization members are being urged to speak out against the “scientifically indefensible,” “punitive to one industry and misdirected,” and costly bill by urging state representatives to help kill it.
Marc Marcantonio, a Steilacoom-based bass angler and maker of lead fishing weights ranging in size from 1/16 ounce to 1 ounce, is putting out the word in the bass world, and says he plans to testify before the House Committee on Environment at the scheduled 8 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 19 hearing.
(With a winter storm warning in the forecast for Wednesday, watch here to see if it’s still a go before making the trek to the state capitol campus.)
This is the second time in the past two years in Washington that small lead fishing gear has come under serious scrutiny. The Fish & Wildlife Commission took on managing its use at a number of fairly remote lakes in the Cascades, Okanogan Highlands and northeast corner used by loons as breeding habitat. After a year, numerous meetings and much debate, the commission in Dec. 2010 instituted partial bans at 13 waters.
At the time, some sportfishing advocates called the decision a political rather than scientific one, and now the issue is fully in the political arena.
HB 2241’s prime sponsor is Rep. Luis Moscoso, a first-term Democrat from Mountlake Terrace. According to his office, it came from a constituent in his 1st District, smack in Puget Sound’s famed convergence zone and including the cities and burgs of Bothell, Clearview, Maltby and Mill Creek.
The bill follows another introduced in 2010 by a former state rep from the same district, Al O’Brien. HB 3158 would have not only banned the sale of small lead fishing tackle, but also its use.
It prescribed a $1,000 first-time fine for selling lead tackle and a $125 first-time fine if you were caught casting it into the Evergreen State’s rivers and lakes.
Get nailed three times running Aerojigs at Reiter for winter-runs and you would have had to forfeit all your tackle, your rod and your reel, and your fishing license for year.
Unenforceable, the bill went absolutely nowhere that sesh.
So the tack this go-around is to ban the sale of:
(a) Lead weighted fishing hook with the lead portion having a mass of one ounce or less or a size of less than one inch along its shortest axis;
and (b) Fishing sinker containing more than one-half of one percent lead by weight if the lead portion of the sinker has a mass of one ounce or less or a size of less than one inch along its shortest axis.
It’s similar language to what was approved by Massachusetts’ wildlife board in 2009 and now in effect on all inland waters there as of Jan. 1, 2012.
Officially, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, which oversees fishing regulations and manages many bird and animal species around the state, is “neutral” on 2241.
“This bill is really focused on the sale of what’s being termed ‘prohibited lead products,'” said Fish Program manager Craig Burley in Olympia this afternoon.
Should it be passed, he said it’s “unclear” what the cost differential might be for anglers in the long term.
Well, it just so happened that today I wandered over to Outdoor Emporium, one of our major advertisers, to look for and price nonlead alternatives.
They weren’t readily available at the moment, I found.
What was was a lot pricier.
A float fisherman, I decided to price weights and jigs.
I use 1/2- or 1/4-ounce lead egg sinkers, and those from Danielson run 99 cents for a package of five of the larger ones and the same price for seven of the smaller ones.
I wouldn’t be able to buy those if the bill passed, so I asked about nonlead alternatives, and OE staffer Bryan Kim led me a couple aisles over, to a small section in the bass arena where there were tungsten bullet weights, by Strike King.
Those run a whopping $7.99 for two — 2 — in the 1/2-ounce size and $7.49 for three 1/4-ouncers.
I’m pretty sure there are cheaper steel ones, like the rusty ones in my bass tackle box, but I didn’t see any.
Then there’s split shot, which we crimp onto our leader to help control our jig’s presentation. Danielson sells them at 99 cents for a package of 32 in size 3/0, or 20 in size 5/0.
That’s the lead price.
The alternative is three times as expensive — it’s $2.99 for Water Gremlin’s Gremlin Green removable tin split shot in the same counts and sizes.
As I tried to close one, I asked Bryan how well the product sold.
Doesn’t, he said.
Then there are steelhead jigs. I asked where I might find the nonlead ones.
There are none at the store, Bryan said — but you can get brass-headed ones online from First Bite Jigs of Portland, another Northwest Sportsman advertiser.
After getting my reel respooled with line and picking up some more spoons and leader (shhhh, Amy doesn’t need to know), I headed back to the office and went to First Bite’s Web site for a price check.
There I found jigs running north of $3 a pop, pretty expensive though the brass head helps avoid paint chip-off, which is annoyingly common with the lead ones.
(Never mind that it might help if I adjusted my bobber stopper to keep them out of the rocks).
Still, that’s anywhere from a dollar to nearly two bucks more than the lead ones for sale at OE.
While my math skills are as suspect as my knots, I tried to figure out the cost of snagging up and losing a nonlead setup at, say, Cable Hole or Plum Landing or on the Hump, _ _ _ _ _ _ or ‘Nooch vs. what I’m using now.
Nonlead: Jig ($3.15) + two small split shot ($2.99 divided by 32 times two equals 18 cents) + 1/4-ounce tungsten weight ($7.49 divided by two equals $3.75) equals $7.08.
Lead: Jig ($1.99) + two small split shot ($.99 divided by 32 times two equals $.06) + 1/4-ounce egg sinker ($.99 divided by seven equals $.14) equals $2.19.
That’s almost five bucks difference a rig.
Man, you want to do the right thing — I get that lead is deadly toxic when ingested by birds and other things, and it’s a good thing that we long ago switched from lead shells for waterfowl to steel, bismuth, Hevi-Shot, etc., and that scofflaws still shooting lead may be the ones leading to dead swans up in the North Sound.
In fact, I’ll probably switch to nonlead bullets for deer in 2012 at my wife’s insistence and my own worry about my boys maybe eating possible fragments in the venison.
And I wonder just how many tons of leadcore are on the bottom at Big Eddy and Cracker Bar, and hope that it all really is inert, like they say, and not leaching away.
I really do want to be a good conservationist — that’s a key part of being a Northwest sportsman, that your connection to fishing and hunting goes beyond just killing and grilling to caring about the critters and their environment.
But there are real reasons to not like HB 2241.
Why does it specifically exempt commercial fishermen? Are we somehow less important than that segment of the fishery because we’re “sports” or “recreational” anglers and are easier pickings? Recreational fishing yields somewhere on the order of $400 million annually in economic value to the state, according to a 2008 report on WDFW’s Web site.
When I was at OE, I asked Bryan about making my own nonlead jigs, but it sounds like the heat required to melt the material into tiny round balls is a wee bit higher than I think my circuits or outdoor fire pit can safely accommodate.
“Tungsten is more unfriendly to the environment than lead — it takes 6,000 degrees of heat to mold tungsten, creating a huge carbon footprint,” notes Marcantonio, who adds that “it ships American jobs to China where it is made.”
He says it will put his QuickDrops out of business, hurt sales at local tackle shops, and that “there is no evidence a ban is warranted; even the EPA dismissed calls for lead bans.”
In November 2010, the federal agency did indeed deny a request to ban lead in fishing sinkers. But this past fall it was again petitioned to look into lead weights, as well as a host of other fishing tackle with the substance in it.
I was hoping to get a call from Rep. Moscoso this afternoon, but he was going to be busy in committee all day, his office told me earlier.
A woman who answered the phone there and explained some things about the bill also acknowledged it might only get a public hearing and not go much further.
But I’d stay tuned.