Chapter 3: Tackling the Problem

Missed our last post? Check out Chapter 2: What "Lead" Us Here

It was 2016 and the New Hampshire-based Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) was celebrating a major win for loons: a long-awaited ban had just gone into effect on the sale of lead fishing tackle weighing less than an ounce. These unassuming sinkers and jigs were the leading culprit in loon mortality, and the LPC had fought hard to get this legislation passed.

One hurdle that the LPC faced was getting early buy-in from retailers in the area. However, once local retailers saw the benefit and success of the buy-back pilot program, more local businesses were encouraged to get involved. Photo courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee.

But the issue remained that vast, unknown quantities of lead tackle were still in circulation. Furthermore, the ban on lead tackle could impact local retailers with unsold lead tackle inventories, and the LPC wanted to find a way to make this legislation work for everyone. “We weren’t there to put anyone out of business,” explained LPC’s Executive Director Harry Vogel, “we just wanted to save some loons.” The LPC knew that if they wanted the lead tackle to be gone for good, they would need buy-in from the fishing community, itself.

The first major alliance that the LPC created was with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHF&G). While the LPC advocated on behalf of wildlife, NHF&G had long-established relationships with local anglers and retailers. “One reason LPC’s program has succeeded,” explained LPC’s Legislative Director Sheridan Brown, “is by knowing what we don’t know and deferring to agency staff and retailers in those areas.”

With this Department on board, the LPC began to craft the seminal Lead Tackle Buy-Back (LTB) program, a program that would encourage anglers to turn in their lead tackle and invest in what they called ‘Loon Safe’ tackle. “Loon Safe essentially is tackle that is not made out of lead,” explained Harry. “It includes steel, bismuth, rubber, tin, etc. If the loons had swallowed any of those materials they would have been ok. It’s the lead that kills them.” To encourage anglers to turn in their toxic tackle, the LPC and NHF&G conceived of a voucher system where anglers could trade in lead sinkers and jigs of 1oz or more in exchange for a $10 voucher. This voucher could be redeemed for regular merchandise or for Loon Safe tackle.

With the program design in place, the LPC needed two things to get things off the ground: participants and funding. The first came from an unlikely place, as one of the two participating retailers, Alan “AJ” Nute, was originally one of the most vocal skeptics of the lead tackle ban. However, with the legislation in place, AJ ultimately realized that this program could help with the transition, and possibly even bring in new customers. Thus, he took the initial plunge alongside another local shop owner, Dale Sandy, who was eager to join.

For funding, the LPC looked to their own community for support. They sent out newsletters that reported on loon fatalities, the launch of the LTB program, and their needs forgetting the initiative up and running. The outreach resulted in seed funding from a key investor - who wished to remain anonymous - and at last, the pilot program could kick off.

Continue reading with Chapter 4: How Far We've Come

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