In late January, state Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood, introduced a bill that would ban some small fishing tackle made with lead — similar to legislation he raised last session in concert with DFL Sen. Chuck Wiger's and stacked on that proposed by others in recent years citing lead's deadly effect on wildlife.

Fischer singles out the protection of loons, which can consume jigs and sinkers either in the fish they eat or the metal lost to the water bottoms where the deep-diving birds grab grit and pebbles to help digest their food.

The lawmaker said he expects his bill, HF944, like some others targeting wildlife protection this session, to get a hearing.

Fischer telegraphed disagreement over the economic impact and paying for enforcement of a limited lead tackle ban, but he said he's talked to stakeholders "who want to figure this out."

"They realize there are alternatives out there, things are moving in that direction and people are looking for it. How do we make it happen in a way that is workable and will stick for the future and not be undone by folks who say, we want to go back to lead because it's cheap?"

Findings in 2006 from a Department of Natural Resources-led study of five state walleye fisheries said lead poisoning from ingested fishing items "may be a growing problem." The DNR looked at Rainy Lake, Namakan Reservoir, Leech Lake, Lake Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods in the summer of 2004. Researchers estimated almost 215,000 pieces of fishing tackle were lost, with more than 100,000 lead pieces that amounted to a metric ton.

What does this legislation propose?

Lead sinker or jig that weighs 1 ounce or less or is 2 1/2 inches or less would be prohibited from manufacture, sale or use.

When would this go into effect?

The ban on its sale or manufacture would begin July 1, 2025, and the ban on its use July 1, 2026.

What about previous attempts to ban lead in fishing tackle?

The topic has percolated and raised difficult questions for decades between legislators, environmentalists, businesses, sporting groups and others — 20 years ago Rep. Yvonne Prettner Solon, a DFLer from Duluth, introduced a bill to prohibit the use and sale of lead sinkers.

Fast-forwarding, legislation in 2022 called the Minnesota Swan Protection Act aimed, among other areas, to ban the use of lead fishing tackle on lakes designated as breeding-swan waters. It died in a House committee.

And what about manufacturers?

A long list of companies, including Northland Tackle Co. of Bemidji, have made attempts through the years at what they call eco-friendly tackle. Northland, for example, sells jigs made of tungsten and a bismuth/tin alloy.

What about Minnesota state natural resources agencies?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has made education its key tool, working to encourage anglers to use nontoxic tackle to avoid poisoning waterfowl through its "Get The Lead Out" initiative. The current program was paid for with more than $1.2 million in settlement money from the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. An abundance of adult loons from Minnesota migrate to the gulf.

The Nongame Wildlife Program of the Department of Natural Resources works with Minnesota residents to monitor the loon population, and managers believe the population is stable with about 12,000 breeding adults.

The MPCA suggests alternative nontoxic tackle made with tin, bismuth, steel, tungsten, brass and other materials and has a directory of manufacturers and their retailers. (Wisconsin goes a step further and has a list of scrap metal recyclers that accept lead tackle.) The nonlead campaign also has a rebate program to support retailers that buy lead-free tackle for sale.

Where do some conservation groups and sporting organizations stand?

John Rust, president of the Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League of America, said his group continues to support a "phase-out" of lead in fishing tackle — and ammunition. The relative health of loon, swan and other wildlife populations is beside the point, he added.

"Most of [the birds] are not endangered species, but just as a responsible outdoors person ... they should be responsible in their use of the materials they use when they fish," he said. "One of the ways is not using lead, not contributing to side casualties of the sport."

Over time, some sporting groups have expressed concern about higher costs for anglers that could diminish interest in the sport. Fischer acknowledged complications around the logistics and economics of some alternative metals. China is the biggest producer of tungsten, for example.

"It's important to find those environmentally friendly metals that are readily available and readily available in a way that won't be expensive for your average [angler]," he said.

Where do neighboring states and other states stand?

None nearby bar the use of lead tackle. New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Maine all have small lead tackle bans with weight and size requirements and all owing to loon mortality. Massachusetts law bans their use but not their sale, and the state of Washington bans specific lead tackle on specific lakes.