California could ban lead fishing tackle

By: Parimal M. Rohit

STATEWIDE — Lead fishing tackle could become banned in California, the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) announced last month.

DTSC released its Safer Consumer Products Final Priority Product Work Plan on April 15, outlining the department’s priority products and chemicals of concern.

“The work plan does not specifically identify priority products or chemicals of concern and does not impose any regulatory requirements,” department staff stated. “Seven product categories were chosen using a variety of screening approaches discussed by DTSC’s Green Ribbon Science Panel at their June 25, 2014, meeting. The work plan is intended to provide a higher level of predictability regarding potential products DTSC may choose to investigate.”

Fishing and angling equipment were included on the work plan’s list. Also on the list were personal care and hygiene products, building and household products, office furniture, cleaning products, clothing and office machinery.

State officials relied on several criteria to determine what categories of products made the work plan list, such as whether a particular item contained chemicals adversely impacting aquatic resources or would harm children or workers.

The department justified its decision to include fishing equipment on the work plan list.

“More than one million Californians fish recreationally. Together, these anglers may lose a significant amount of fishing and angling equipment into the environment,” DTSC’s final work plan stated. “Of particular concern are products such as fishing weights and sinkers made from lead that are used to add weight to a fishing line, lure, or hook. Lead poisoning associated with the ingestion of lead fishing weights has been well documented in a variety of bird and animal species around the world.”

Not all lead fishing tackle was targeted by the department’s work plan.

“We are most concerned about fishing weights and gear that might be consumed by water fowl due to characteristics of size, shape and density. We will not focus on weights or gear not likely to be ingested by waterfowl, (e.g., large weights such as those typically used for offshore salmon fishing),” DTSC officials stated in its final report.

Several comments were published on the DTSC’s website as it deliberated late last year what items to include in its work plan; many questioning whether DTSC had any scientific evidence to support claims lead fishing tackle was harmful.

“EPA did not think fishing gear was an issue, so why is California wasting money and resources to come to the same scientifically based conclusion,” Gary Turner, a California angler, wrote to DTSC. “It does not appear that the DTSC has conducted any research to justify new regulations. What publicly available information was used in selecting fishing gear?”

He believed a ban on lead fishing tackle could result in a 20-fold increase in the cost of fishing gear that would lead to few people participating in recreational fishing and harming jobs.

California Sportfishing League (CSL) President David Dickerson suggested DTSC had not fully fleshed out how a ban on lead fishing tackle would impact recreational anglers.

“Fishing is not just a form of recreation, but also a source of healthy food for millions of Californians. There are no acceptable alternatives for many products currently available on the market. In such cases, the regulations would serve as a de facto ban for certain types of fishing or locations. Furthermore, where inferior alternatives exist, they cost 20 times more than what is used today,” Dickerson said. DTSC needs to consider the impacts on the cost and availability of fish consumed by anglers and their families.”

A petition with more than 1,100 signatures was included with Dickerson’s letter.

The American Sportfishing Association submitted 659 individual letters, most of them written to form, to DTSC, many of them alleging the department lacked evidence to implement a lead fishing gear ban.

Another angler advocacy group, Sportfishing Association of California (SAC), said the possible ban of lead fishing gear would harm a $300 million industry.

“Given the absence of sufficient scientific data to warrant a state or federal ban on lead fishing tackle, and the substantial negative economic impact that would be realized, SAC strongly recommends the California Department of Toxic Substance Control delist fishing gear and tackle from the Draft Priority Product Work Ban,” SAC President Ken Franke wrote. “The DTSC includes regulations that may ban the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of common fishing gear essential to a $300 million per year industry in California.”

Barbara Newton, president of California Travel Association, said any regulation of lead fishing gear could harm tourism to the state.

“Our organization is very concerned that fishing gear and equipment could be exposed to unwarranted and costly regulation,” Newton said. “The proposed regulations could make some fishing equipment illegal or obsolete, or simply deny anglers access to popular tourism destinations.”

In a recent column, outdoor columnist Jim Matthews wrote DTSC publicly admitted it lacked evidence proving lead was harmful for the environment.

“DTSC admitted in public hearings that it has no scientific studies demonstrating that lead poses an environmental problem in California. Yet, DTSC has declared fishing gear to be one of the top seven most significant threats to the environment and to the health of Californians,” he wrote.

On the other side of the aisle, the Center for Biological Diversity claimed in a petition for rulemaking submitted to the EPA in 2010 sufficient data existed to demonstrate certain fowl species died from swallowing discarded lead sinkers.

“More than 130 species of animals (including mammals, upland birds, raptors, waterfowl, amphibians and reptiles) have been reported in scientific literature as being exposed or killed by ingesting lead shot, bullets, bullet fragments, fishing tackle or prey contaminated with lead ammunition. Lead fishing sinkers and jigs are documented to cause lead poisoning mortality in numerous species of waterbirds and wading birds,” CBD’s petition, which was ultimately rejected by the EPA, stated.

Interestingly enough, President Barack Obama signed an omnibus spending bill earlier this year preventing states from using federal funds to ban or regulate lead fishing tackle. The spending bill, however, did not prevent legislators or policymakers from relying upon state, county or local funding to bankroll laws restricting lead tackle.

DTSC stated it would host a series of workshops later this year to elaborate on its work plan and solicit stakeholder input to clarify how lead fishing tackle and the other selected categories made the department’s list.

The work plan will be in effect through 2017.

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