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Don't forget to get the lead out for the fishing opener

As you go through your tackle box to get ready for the 2008 fishing opener, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) encourages anglers to switch to lead-free fishing tackle. Lead is a toxic metal that has adverse effects on the nervous and reproductive systems of mammals and birds. Found in most fishing jigs and sinkers, this metal is poisoning wildlife such as loons and eagles.

When lead fishing sinkers are lost through broken line or other means, birds can inadvertently eat them. Water birds such as loons and swans often swallow lead 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 ingest lead by eating fish, which have themselves swallowed sinkers.

While it is hard to get an accurate count of water birds and birds of prey that die from ingesting lead tackle, current research indicates that lead poisoning is a serious concern.

Between 1980 and 1996, the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota reported lead poisoning in 138 of 650 eagles they treated. Since 1996, 43 additional eagles were treated for lead poisoning including 22 last year. Lead fishing tackle is considered a possible source of lead poisoning of eagles.

Tips for anglers to help safeguard wildlife:

• Use non-lead fishing weights. Inexpensive and ecologically-sound alternatives to lead fishing weights are available. Anglers should use sinkers and jigs made from non-hazardous materials such as steel, tin and bismuth.

• Never throw old fishing gear into the water or shore. Discard old lead sinkers and jigs properly. For example, you may want to bring them to your local household hazardous waste collection site during your next visit.

• Never put a lead sinker in your mouth or bite down on slip shot. Use a pair of pliers instead.

• Always wash you hands thoroughly after handling lead sinkers or cleaning out your tackle box.

• Spread the word by telling other anglers about the problem and encouraging them to switch to non-lead sinkers and jigs. Talk to your favorite retailers and ask them to stock non-lead fishing tackle.

In a growing number of areas outside Minnesota, non-lead tackle isn't just a good idea - it's the law. Restrictions and bans of lead fishing sinkers and jigs are becoming more common in the United States and other countries.

For more information lead-free tackle and a list of Minnesota locations where it is available, visit the MPCA Web site at