Concern about lead poisoning among water birds led New Hampshire to ban the sale and use of certain types of lead fishing tackle. New York and Maine have banned the sale of lead sinkers weighing a half ounce or less.
Now the issue has surfaced in Michigan with the introduction of a bill that proposes a multistep plan to phase out most lead tackle, including sinkers weighing one ounce or less, jigs, and other tackle items containing lead.
Ed Stowe of Stowaway Charter Service in Ludington, a salmon and trout charter business, said that he does not oppose the legislation as long as there are "affordable alternatives to the lead."
As it stands now, there are few lead substitutes for him to use, and they're frequently not stocked at retailers such as Wal-Mart or Kmart, he said.
"I'm not sure two years is enough to phase it in," Stowe said.
If viable and affordable alternatives aren't available on the market, this legislation would "make lawbreakers out of many people," Stowe said.
Rep. Chris Kolb, D-Ann Arbor, the bill's sponsor, said the measure would protect water birds from ingestion of jigs and sinkers, adding that several economical and effective alternatives to lead tackle are available.
Ray Rustem, the Department of Natural Resources natural heritage unit supervisor, said the ban's impact on the wildlife population would be insignificant considering the economic costs.
"For the benefit to be derived from this ... it's not worth the economic impact on the angler," said Rustem.
He also claims that far more loons are killed by commercial fish nets than by lead sinkers.
Alternatives to lead tackle include steel, bismuth, ceramic, tungsten, tin and recycled glass, according to the Michigan DNR.
Nevertheless, some experts insist lead poisoning is a serious concern that must be addressed and measures need to be taken now to educate anglers about the harm posed to water birds.
"You have to take steps where you can and work towards it," said Joanne Williams of Shepherd, state coordinator of the Michigan Loon Preservation Association/Michigan Loon Watch, a division of the Michigan Audubon Society. "Education is the biggest thing we have to address.
"In the long run it will be beneficial to wildlife and to Michigan," Williams said.
The most common way for loons and other birds to be poisoned is through ingestion of sinkers and jigs. Loons, a threatened species in Michigan, and other birds eat smaller sinkers and jigs, mistaking them for small pebbles they normally swallow to grind food in their gut, according to the Michigan Loon Preservation Association.
Ingestion of one lead sinker or jig is enough to kill a bird within two to three weeks, according to the association.
Sam Washington, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the bill is an "OK idea" but he believes that lead tackle has minimal impact on the environment.
Attempts to ban leaded tackle don't safeguard the species that they're trying to protect, Washington said.
But others say that lead is a serious concern not to be dismissed as insignificant.
"Lead is toxic to every living organism that it's been tested on," said Jerry Purdy, a member of the loon association board. "It's certainly not the kind of thing you want to eat intentionally."
Lead takes 300 years to degrade, Purdy said.
He predicts lead fishing tackle will eventually be banned.
"It will happen, it's just a matter of time," he said. "In a hundred years, people will be saying, 'What were those people thinking?'"
Michael Boyce, Baker Sanctuary resident manager for the Michigan Audubon Society, said his organization "is firmly in favor of the phase-out and eventual ban of all lead fishing tackle." The sanctuary is in Calhoun County.
Although lead alternatives may be more expensive, Boyce said, the prices of the alternatives may eventually reach current prices of lead tackle.
There are five co-sponsors: Reps. Kathleeen Law, D-Gibraltar; Steve Bieda, D-Warren; Alexander Lipsey, D-Kalamazoo; Paula Zelenko, D-Burton; and LaMar Lemmons III, D-Detroit.
Kolb said he will work to get a hearing scheduled by the Committee on Natural Resources, Great Lakes, Land Use, and Environment.