By: Parimal M. Rohit
When legislators approved and President Barack Obama signed the federal spending bill a few weeks ago, one provision prohibited the use of federal funds to enact statewide or local bans on the sale and use of lead in fishing tackle.
Included in the 2015 omnibus spending bill, courtesy of the Toxic Substances Control Act and benefiting anglers who use lead-based fishing tackle, the prohibition against using federal funds to ban lead products from recreational activity could prevent certain regulations from being enacted.
“We see the omnibus package as a temporary fix. It means federal money cannot be used to ban lead fishing tackle,” Libby Yranski, government relations coordinator for American Sportfishing Association (ASA), said, adding the advocacy group has for a few years been working on permanent legislation to create an exemption from banning lead-based fishing tackle.
Specifically, the exemption means lead-based fishing tackle cannot be banned locally. State and local regulation of lead-based fishing tackle could still be enacted and enforced without the use of federal funds.
The 1,600-page bill, signed by Obama in mid-December 2014, included provisions at least one environment group said “puts people and wildlife in danger.”
Officials from the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control said the published work plan was merely a starting point and whether any policies or regulations result from it remains to be seen.
The inclusion of the Toxic Substances Control Act in the 2015 federal spending bill will not impact the state’s studies to determine whether lead-based fishing tackle would be banned.
Meredith Williams, deputy director of the Department of Toxic Control Substances, told The Log the omnibus bill line item will not impact California.
“Nothing precludes us as a state to look at the issue. Our program gets very few funds from the EPA,” Williams said, adding the line item in the omnibus bill allows states to make their own determinations of whether to develop policies banning lead-based fishing tackle.
California officials began looking into regulating or banning the use of lead products in the state’s waterways in September. Any possible regulation in California of lead products in fishing weights and gear would be based on a report published as part of the Safer Consumer Products Program and its Draft Priority Product Work Plan.
The work plan stated its aim is to incorporate certain regulations “designed to encourage market shifts toward a green economy.”
According to the draft work plan, anglers potentially lose “hundreds of tons of fishing and angling equipment into the environment” that contain hazardous chemicals such as lead, zinc and copper, and threaten wildlife.
The California Sportfishing League (CSL) and ASA oppose any bans or restrictive policies on fishing equipment.
ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman said while the inclusion of the Toxic Substances Control Act in the 2015 federal spending bill would help protect as many as 60 million anglers nationwide from restrictive regulations, a more permanent or long-term measure is needed.
Nussman added he hoped the “permanent fix” would be found in a sportsman’s package bill potentially considered by the just-sworn-in 114th Congress.
Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal spending bill placed special interests ahead of environmental protection.
“Fishing sinkers that fall off of the fishing line and end up in lakes and streams inevitably enters the food chain when either a fish or a bird accidentally ingests them. In the 1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the use of lead ammunition in waterfowl hunting, because lead shot – similar in shape and size to fishing tackle – was entering the environment in massive amounts, and it was poisoning millions of waterfowl each year,” Hartl said. “Even though lead fishing tackle/sinkers are less of a problem in magnitude compared to lead ammunition, lead is still highly toxic in small amounts, and this is a real problem that needs to be regulated.”
In December 2014, a U.S. Court of Appeals reportedly ruled against anti-hunting groups who petitioned the EPA to impose a ban on lead-based ammunition for guns. Federal judges reportedly said environmental groups did not demonstrate how the EPA could regulate discarded lead bullets as well as cartridges and shells; the latter two items are exempt from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Whether pro-angler groups rely upon last month’s ruling as a precedent remains to be seen.
An ASA-issued position paper published in June 2011 stated there was insufficient data warranting federal or statewide bans on lead-based fishing tackle.
A portion of the position paper states: “Lead toxicosis can kill waterbirds, and lead fishing sinkers may contribute to this mortality.
Sufficient data must exist to demonstrate discarded lead sinkers are an actual threat to the sustainability of loons or other waterbird populations.”
In a petition for rulemaking submitted to the EPA in August 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity claims there is sufficient data 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,” the petition, which was ultimately rejected by the EPA, stated. “Lead fishing sinkers and jigs are documented to cause lead poisoning mortality in numerous species of waterbirds and wading birds.”