Reports the past few days out of White Bear Township that a company called Water Gremlin has been closed over lead poisoning concerns were read particularly closely by Minnesota anglers.
That’s because Water Gremlin, a company founded in 1949, has long been a producer of lead sinkers, which are key components of what anglers call “terminal tackle,” an all-encompassing term that also includes swivels, hooks, floats, spoons, beads, spinners and split rings.
Traditionally — meaning, in this case, since time immemorial — fishing sinkers have been made out of lead. In addition to being relatively cheap, lead is also denser than most materials, yet soft and malleable, with a comparatively low melting point of 621.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
All of which is important when producing sinkers, because, as fishing techniques have exponentially grown more sophisticated over time, anglers’ sinkers have, too.
Consider this example from Water Gremlin’s website, touting its bullet-shaped split-shot sinkers:
“BullShot is the Gremlin’s unique (soft lead) bullet shaped split shot. It’s the easy, effective way to add a little weedless weight to your line. BullShot works great for finesse fishing or split shottin’. It’s as easy to use as our good, old Split Shot and as weedless as any slip sinker.”
Like other fishing-gear manufacturers and retailers, Water Gremlin is well aware of lead’s toxicity, and aware also that some environmental groups have tried for years to ban its use in fishing equipment.
To counter those efforts, while also addressing the concerns of an ever-larger eco-sensitive angling public, Water Gremlin also offers what it calls its “Green Gremlin” line of tin and steel sinkers.
This also from the company’s website:
“Water Gremlin’s Premium Steel Dipsey Swivel Sinkers are named Gremlin Green and are one of the true environmentally-friendly sinkers on the market.”
Yet because lead is a universally acknowledged toxin that can impair people as well as wildlife, its continued use in fishing gear likely is doomed. Already, since 1991, it’s been outlawed nationwide in shotshells used for waterfowl hunting. It’s also banned on certain lands, such as federal waterfowl production areas, for upland bird hunting (think pheasants). The concern here was not primarily for targeted mallards and other wild fowl — lead shotgun pellets are highly lethal — but for ancillary ducks, geese and other birds that might ingest hunters’ spent lead shot that is deposited in wetlands, rivers and lakes.
Of concern as well, particularly in Minnesota, given the state’s large eagle population, are lead bullet fragments left afield in gut piles of hunter-killed deer and other big game. Eagles, ravens, crows and other scavengers often feast on these, and each year, eagles are brought to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center in St. Paul suffering from lead poisoning.
Loons are also particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, though not from spent lead shotgun pellets or rifle bullets. The culprits instead, the DNR says, are anglers’ lost fishing sinkers and jigs. A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency study that examined 101 dead loons, for example, found that seven died from lead poisoning.
Considering these and the many other threats posed by lead, it’s remarkable that fishing industry executives and their lobbyists have successfully thwarted — so far — nationwide efforts to “get the lead out.” They argue that threats to loons, fish and other wildlife by lead tackle haven’t been proven, and that the cost of switching entirely to nontoxics such as bismuth, steel, tin and certain alloys, like tungsten-nickel, would be too high.
California Sportfishing League boss Marko Mlikotin’s response to a proposal last year in the Golden State to ban small lead sinkers was typical:
“There is no science to justify banning fishing weights found in nearly every California angler’s tackle box. Making fishing too costly and less accessible will have a devastating impact on the state’s tourism industry and communities dependent on outdoor recreation for tax revenue and jobs.”
Maybe. But lawmakers in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts disagree, as do those in Canada and Europe. Each has passed partial or complete lead fishing tackle bans.
Until that happens in Minnesota, anglers wanting to switch from lead to nontoxic gear have many choices.
Cabela’s and other national retailers, as well as local sporting-goods dealers, carry Water Gremlin and other manufacturers’ sinkers and other tackle molded from nontoxic materials.
The more anglers go green, and the quicker they do it, the greater the incentive for fishing-tackle manufacturers to produce more and better eco-friendly alternatives to lead.