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Monday, May 6, 2013

Small Nashua fishing tackle shop fears effect of expanding lead-sinker ban

NASHUA – Joe Catalano likes loons, as do most of us. The problem is that he also likes to fish, and he likes his 35-year-old business selling fishing equipment – which puts him in a bit of a bind.

“This is what we’re fighting for, right here,” he said, gesturing at a wall full of jigs – fishing lures, often in the shape of insects, with hooks in them – for sale. “The Bitsy Bug – that’s my No. 1 selling item.” ...

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NASHUA – Joe Catalano likes loons, as do most of us. The problem is that he also likes to fish, and he likes his 35-year-old business selling fishing equipment – which puts him in a bit of a bind.

“This is what we’re fighting for, right here,” he said, gesturing at a wall full of jigs – fishing lures, often in the shape of insects, with hooks in them – for sale. “The Bitsy Bug – that’s my No. 1 selling item.”

His difficulty is that the weights in most of the jigs are made of lead, which is cheap, heavy and easy to work with: The perfect material for fishing lures. It’s also toxic, which is why it has been removed from paint and gasoline and many other products – and why there is a renewed push in the Statehouse to reduce its use in fishing lures, which often get lost while fishing and can be eaten by loons.

Concern for loons led New Hampshire to become the first state to ban some lead jigs in 1998. That ban applies to jigs that are 1 inch long or less, the theory being that bigger ones don’t get eaten by loons.

Now a proposed bill, which has passed the Senate and is being considered by the House Fish and Game Committee, would tighten that rule, banning jigs which weigh 1 ounce or less. This would affect most jigs used by people who fish for bass or “pan fish” in rivers and lakes, and even some saltwater fishing for stripers and bluefish.

Alternative metals exist for use – tin, bismuth and tungsten are the most common – but they are more expensive, sometimes much more.

Catalano holds out two sets of quarter-ounce sinkers, small metal weights without hooks attached used to regulate how deep your bait sinks below the water. One is lead, which costs 99 cents; one is bismuth, and costs more than three dollars.

Catalano says losing the small lead jigs and sinkers would cripple his business, Granite State Rod & Reel, which is already struggling due to competition from chains like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops.

Although it operates out of his garage with virtually no sign or advertising, Catalano’s store is astonishingly comprehensive, with a vast range of rods, reels, fishing tackle, and fishing paraphernalia crammed onto every wall and aisle.

“It pays the taxes,” he said.

Opponents of an expanded ban say it could harm the fishing industry overall, cutting the number of fishing licenses sold in the state. That could hurt some wildlife programs, because New Hampshire Fish & Game’s major source of income is hunting and fishing licenses.

So far, the experience in Massachusetts doesn’t support that fear, however. That state expanded its lead-lure fishing ban starting Jan. 1, 2012, yet sold about 10,000 more fishing licenses last year than it did the year before – an increase of roughly 5 percent.

“We don’t ascribe that to the ban. We ascribe that to a fabulous spring. The fishing season started early,” said Marion Larson, chief of information and education for the Mass. Department of Fisheries & Wildlife. Massachusetts also expanded its electronic licensing system last year.

However, she said, the ban didn’t seem to have any negative effect, perhaps because so many alternatives to lead are available.

“(The ban) was passed three years earlier, to take effect in 2012. At the time it was passed, there really wasn’t much in the way of product, but now there are a lot more non-lead alternatives out there for fishing,” she said.

Sheridan Brown, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Loon Preservation Committee, testified before the legislature that 49 percent of adult loons die as a result of ingesting lead fishing tackle and half of those deaths are from tackle that is currently legal, according to Associated Press reports.

Biologist Harry Vogel, director of the loon committee, said loon numbers are rising because of conservation efforts but are only at half of historic levels.

Catalano has attended some legislative hearings on the issue and thinks the odds are weighted against him. He said he understands why small lead jigs and sinkers might be limited in certain places where loons are common, but that a statewide ban is too much.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@Telegraph_DaveB).