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Get the lead out for the fishing opener

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Saint Paul, Minn. -- As you sort through your tackle box dreaming of the big one you're going to catch this year, remember to make it a safe year for wildlife. Search your equipment for lead sinkers and jigs, and replace them with lead-free fishing tackle. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says that lead is a toxic metal that poisons birds and other wildlife, including Minnesota favorites such as loons and eagles.

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When lead sinkers are lost through broken fishing lines or other means, birds can inadvertently eat them. Water birds such as loons often swallow lead sinkers when they scoop up pebbles from the bottom of a lake or river to help grind their food. Eating just one lead sinker can poison a loon. Eagles can ingest lead by eating fish that have themselves swallowed lead sinkers.

While it is hard to get an accurate count of water birds and birds of prey that die from eating lead fishing tackle, research indicates that fishing-related lead poisoning can be easily avoided by using nontoxic alternative sinkers and jigs.

In loon breeding areas -- the Great Lakes, northeastern United States and eastern Canada - studies show that lead poisoning accounts for about 25 percent of dead loons found by researchers. In some areas, up to 50 percent of loon mortality is caused by lead.

This year, the MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) partnered with the nonprofit angling group, Recycled Fish (http://recycledfish.org), to offer a special, "Sustaining Anglers, Fish & Ecosystems," (S.A.F.E.) Angling Kit that contains lead-alternative sinkers and biodegradable lures, as well as hooks and other supplies.

"No group is better positioned to be stewards of our natural resources than anglers," said Teeg Stouffer, Executive Director of Recycled Fish.

The kits are available at Joe's Sporting Goods in St. Paul and on the Red Rock Wilderness Web site at www.redrockstore.com.

Tips to help anglers safeguard wildlife and themselves:

-- Use fishing weights made from non-hazardous materials such as steel, tin and bismuth.

-- Dispose of old lead sinkers and jigs at your local hazardous waste collection site.

-- Wash your hands after handling lead fishing tackle or cleaning your tackle box.

-- Ask your favorite retailer to stock non-lead fishing tackle.

In many states, lead-free tackle isn't just a good idea -- it's the law. Restrictions and bans of lead fishing sinkers and jigs are becoming more common, both in the U.S. and in other countries.

For more information, visit the MPCA Web site at www.pca.state.mn.us/oea/reduce/sinkers.cfm.

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