Merwin: What's The Big Deal About Lead Sinker Bans?

A recent proposal in Washington state to ban certain lead fishing weights has brought a surprising flurry of opposition. Surprising to me, anyway. I live and fish in a state (Vermont) where lead sinkers of 0.5-ounce and lighter are banned. This seems like no big deal. And I'm not sure why it's so controversial.

I already use non-toxic, tin split shot if I need a tiny weight on a flyfishing leader. And I use tungsten worm weights that work much better than lead versions when bass fishing (yes, they're more expensive). I continue to use lead-head jigs because they're still legal where I fish, but there are lots of non-lead jighead options, too.

Getting the lead out, as one slogan goes, is supposed to be a way of protecting loons that might otherwise be poisoned when they accidentally pick up and eat a sinker or two off the bottom. I like watching and hearing loons. Making some minor change in my tackle to help protect them seems like a no-brainer. Note that here, at least, heavier sinkers are still legal along with lead-core trolling line and weighted lures or flies, so the necessary (by law) change isn't as great as it might be. New York, New Hampshire, and Maine are other states that now restrict lead-sinker use.

Lead sinkers have long been an issue in Minnesota, which does not yet have a ban but does have an exceptional public-information program. You can read about lead-sinker issues and find numerous lead alternatives at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's excellent website, which is well worth a look.

Meanwhile, back in Washington state, the proposal is still pending. It has drawn loud opposition from groups such as the national fishing-industry trade association and B.A.S.S.. But what do you think? Is this just another example of unnecessary governmental intrusion or of environmental groups gone haywire? Or are lead sinkers a legitimate concern? Could you fish adequately with lead substitutes? And would you?