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February 8 2005

GET READY for another round of the lead-tackle debate with the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment Canada.

The CWS is again proposing to ban the importation, manufacture and sale of (but not the use of existing) lead fishing sinkers and jigs less than two centimetres (.788 inch) in length and weighing less than 50 grams (1.765 ounces).

The ban is based on concern over an annual average of six reported wildlife deaths, mainly common loons, across Canada from 1987 to 1998 because they ingested toxic lead sinkers or jigs.

The CWS claims this translates into "20% to 30% of adult loon mortality."


Yet, far more loons died recently in Ontario alone from botulism on the Great Lakes. Even CWS pegs those numbers at "hundreds or thousands" from 1999 to 2002.

The CWS tried to push a ban through last year, but stalled when Minister of the Environment David Anderson was replaced in that post by Stephane Dion, MP for St. Laurent-Carterville, after the past election.

The new proposal, however, is broad-sweeping. It also would apply to spinners, lures, spoons, and other tackle that "attaches to a fishing line" and "contains more than 1% lead content."

This means all those crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and other lures you use that contain even miniscule amounts of lead in any metallic combination also might be the last of their kind.

Phil Morlock, chair of the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association (CSIA) Legislative Committee, says this could even eventually apply to fishing reels and other gear if they contain lead, brass, or white metal.

To back its proposal, the CWS is again using the two-year-old "Occasional Paper 108," an internal report still not published and peer reviewed scientifically outside of Environment Canada.

After following this issue for more than a decade, I am convinced that there is no smoking gun with the sinker issue. Loon deaths in Canada from lead ingestion are insignificant to overall population levels.

Even the CWS pegs the Canadian common loon population at nearly 600,000 birds and stable or increasing, and as making a comeback in many areas of the U.S. where they were extirpated.

In my view, the real issue isn't about loons and wildlife, although the World Wildlife Fund has been behind the push for a lead-tackle ban, but a worldwide look at the unnecessary use of lead.

Even the tackle industry agrees lead is toxic and its use should be limited where deemed necessary. That was the case when leaded gasoline, paints, and other products were spread widely in the environment at toxic levels. But, with fishing tackle, that is undetermined in Canada.

In a position paper, the CSIA recommends that government invite expert toxicologists from the medical profession and independent wildlife scientists to participate in discussion on this issue prior to forming a final policy -- a reasonable request.


The public, though, can comment on current proposals by March 15 at Lead Free Fishing Consultations, 3rd Floor, 351 St. Joseph Blvd., Gatineau, Quebec, K1A 0H3 or e-mail Lead Free

Whether this is just mock "consultation" remains to be seen. Like Anderson before him, Environment Minister Dion has yet to discuss the issue with the CSIA, says Morlock.

Unless Dion wants to be called the minister of junk science, however, he needs to fully consult with outside sources and not just take the CWS, or for that matter, the CSIA spin on the issue. He should openly address the use of lead on a much wider scale than just the tackle industry and
not use hocus-pocus data to justify a lead-lure-and-sinker ban first, which would have a limited environmental impact and costs anglers untold millions of dollars.

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