Lead sinkers and jigs: executive summary
Official title: Study to Gather Use Pattern Information on Lead Sinkers and Jigs and their Non-Lead Alternatives in Canada
Notice to reader
This study, commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada, was conducted by Toxecology - Environmental Consulting Ltd. Its content represents the findings and opinions of the authors. It does not necessarily represent the policies or the views of Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The Government of Canada assumes no liability for any damage, injury, loss of property, loss of data, loss of any and all resources, or any negative influence what-so-ever, that may result from any and all usage of the information contained within this document. Readers are cautioned to use the information contained in this document at entirely their own risk.
Information contained within below is provided for information purposes only and are intended to provide an update on the use and release of lead sinkers and jigs and non-lead alternatives in Canada.
Lead (Pb) is a natural metallic element which is highly toxic. Its widespread presence in the environment is the result of many historical industrial and commercial activities, as well as the use of consumer products such as sinkers and jigs. Lead sinkers and jigs ingestion are the single most important cause of death reported for Common Loons in eastern Canada and the United States, frequently exceeding deaths caused due to entanglement in fishing gear, trauma, disease, and other causes of mortality.
In Canada, the uses of lead sinkers and jigs are partially restricted but represent less than 1% of recreational anglers in Canada. In order to reduce lead’s presence in Canadian waters, and hence associated risks, the Government of Canada has developed a Risk Management Strategy for Lead.
Wildlife, particularly waterbirds, can ingest fishing sinkers and jigs by mistaking sinkers and jigs for food items or by consuming lost fish bait with the line and weight still attached. Ingestion of a single lead sinker or lead-headed jig can be sufficient to be lethal for a bird.
Lead sinker and jig ingestion has been documented in 10 different wildlife species in Canada and 23 species in the United States including loons, swans, cranes, pelicans, cormorants and other waterfowl. Evidence indicates that lead sinker and jig ingestion is the only significant source of elevated lead exposure and lead toxicity for Common Loons (Gavia immer) and is also the single most important cause of death reported for adult Common Loons in eastern Canada and the United States.
Annual fishing sinkers and jigs consumption
There is a large and diverse range of sizes and types of fishing sinkers and jig products available for sale in Canada. Each year on average the 3.3 million anglers in Canada will purchase 11 to 15 new sinkers and jigs to replace those that have been lost. The vast majority of them contain lead and most are sold through sporting goods retailers. About 50 tonnes of lead sinkers and jigs are manufactured in Canada each year and about 465 tonnes (90% of the total) are imported, the majority of which come from China, the United States and Taiwan.
It is estimated that the total quantity of lead sinker and jigs lost in the environment is approximately 460 tonnes each year. Most of these losses (about 75%) are associated with sinkers. Given the difficulty in retrieving them given their small size and wide dispersal, there is little economic incentive to collect or recycle them.
The market for fishing sinkers and jigs has remained largely unchanged for more than a decade and remains dominated by lead products. The number of anglers in Canada is not expected to change substantially over the next decade. While the market for alternatives is expected to remain very small, it is expected that future releases to the environment will remain constant, with about 4,600 tonnes released over the next decade.
There are numerous alternatives available in the Canadian market including tin, bismuth, antimony, steel, brass, tungsten, terpene resin putty and polypropylene. Although most of the alternatives have historically been more expensive, the price will depend on the type and material used. Steel sinkers can be cheaper whereas tungsten and bismuth tend to be more expensive. While some anglers have expressed concerns about the cost, availability and effectiveness of alternatives, they have also acknowledged the severity of the problem and show a willingness to switch to alternatives if the cost is about the same as lead.
Risk management practices
Partial prohibitions on lead sinkers and jigs have been used in various jurisdictions. In Canada, lead sinkers weighing less than 50 grams or less than 2 centimeters in length are banned in national parks, and in wildlife refuge areas and some parks in the United States. However, current Canadian regulations are of limited scope since they cover less than 3% of Canada's land mass and affect less than 1% of recreational anglers in Canada.
In other jurisdictions such as the United States, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts have banned the use of lead sinkers, and Denmark, England and Wales have banned the use of lead fishing weights of 1 ounce (about 28 grams) or less. Jurisdictions that specify the size of the weights in their bans restrict their use below a certain size (typically in the range of 14 to 50 grams in weight and from 2 to 2.5 centimetres in length) because these sizes are more likely to be ingested by birds.
Voluntary programs to encourage the use of alternatives have been attempted in other jurisdictions and there are lead tackle exchange programs in Canada on a small scale. However, a widespread shift in perception amongst anglers in Canada is required for the adoption of non-lead alternatives to happen on a large scale.
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