Lead Shot and Sinkers: Weighty Implications for Fish and Wildlife Health

Lead Shot and Sinkers: Weighty Implications for Fish and Wildlife Health

Lead is a metal with no known beneficial role in biological systems, and its use in gasoline, paint, pesticides, and solder in food cans has nearly been eliminated. Although lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting in 1991, its use in ammunition for upland hunting, shooting sports, and in fishing tackle remains common.

While noting that more information is needed on some aspects of the impact of lead on wildlife, the authors said that numerous studies already documented adverse effects to wildlife, especially waterbirds and scavenging species, like hawks and eagles. Lead exposure from ingested lead shot, bullets, and fishing sinkers also has been reported in reptiles, and studies near shooting ranges have shown evidence of lead poisoning in small mammals.  

Frequently used upland hunting fields may have as much as 400,000 shot per acre. Individual shooting ranges may receive as much as 1.5 to 23 tons of lead shot and bullets annually, and outdoor shooting ranges overall may use more than 80,000 tons of lead shot and bullets each year.  Although precise estimates are not available for lead fishing tackle in the environment, about 4,382 tons of lead fishing sinkers are sold each year in the United States.

The most significant hazard to wildlife is through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and bullets, lost fishing sinkers and tackle, and related fragments, or through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets or fragments, emphasized USGS contaminants experts Drs. Barnett Rattner and Chris Franson. The two scientists are lead authors of The Wildlife Society (TWS) technical report and co-authors with five other experts of a recent Fisheries article on the same subject.


“Science is replete with evidence that ingestion of spent ammunition and fishing tackle can kill birds,” Rattner said. “The magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons, is daunting.  For this reason, on July 1, 2008, the state of California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California condor because the element poses such a threat to this endangered species.” Lead poisoning causes behavioral, physiological, and biochemical effects, and often death. The rate of mortality is high enough to affect the populations of some wildlife species. Although fish ingest sinkers, jigs, and hooks, mortality in fish seems to be related to injury, blood loss, exposure to air and exhaustion rather than the lead toxicity that affects warm-blooded species.


Although lead from spent ammunition and lost fishing tackle is not readily released into aquatic and terrestrial systems, under some environmental conditions it can slowly dissolve and enter groundwater, making it potentially hazardous for plants, animals, and perhaps even people if it enters water bodies or is taken up in plant roots. For example, said Rattner, dissolved lead can result in lead contamination in groundwater near some shooting ranges and at heavily hunted sites, particularly those hunted year after year.

Research on lead poisoning related to spent ammunition and lost fishing tackle has been focused on bird species, with at least two studies indicating that the ban on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl in North America has been successful in reducing lead exposure in waterfowl, the report said. The authors found that upland game - such as doves and quail - and scavenging birds - such as vultures and eagles - continue to be exposed to lead shot, putting some populations (condors in particular) at risk of lead poisoning.

Some states have limited the use of lead shot in upland areas to minimize such effects, and others are considering such restrictions.  Environmentally safe alternatives to lead shot and sinkers exist and are available in North America and elsewhere, but use of these alternatives is not widespread, according to the report.

The authors of the report concluded that a better understanding of the toxicity and amount of lead poisoning in reptiles and aquatic birds related to fishing tackle is needed, as well as more information on the hazards of spent ammunition and mobilized lead at or near shooting ranges. In addition, the authors suggested that a more detailed knowledge of how lead shot and fishing tackle specifically affect wildlife here and in other countries is essential, as well as studies that evaluate the effects on wildlife health and ecosystems of regulations restricting the amount of lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle.


This technical review was authored by contaminant experts at the request of TWS and the American Fisheries Society (AFS). Such reviews synthesize available information and research on a particular topic.  In this case, TWS and AFS sought to address the scientific data on the hazard and risk of lead in hunting, shooting sports, and fishing activities to fulfill their conservation missions. To obtain a copy of the technical review report, “Sources and Implications of Lead-Based Ammunition and Fishing Tackle on Natural Resources,” visit www.wildlife.org.  For a copy of the American Fisheries Society article on the known and potential impacts of lead in shooting and fishing, please visit http://www.fisheries.org/afs/docs/fisheries/fisheries_3305.pdf

USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information visit www.usgs.gov.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Berkley

Berkley's Surge Shad

Major League Fishing pro Scott Suggs has relied on the Berkley Surge Shad lure concept for years, using similar designs to capture MLF titles and a $1 million dollar FLW Forrest Cup win. With new features in the Surge Shad, Suggs tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead that even he can find success out on the water!

MLF BPT angler and former Classic champ Casey Ashley has been with Costa del Mar sunglasses his whole career. At ICAST 2019, he shows OSG writer Lynn Burkhead some new products and talks how to pick the right lens color for the water.

New Optimum and Optimum TS Downriggers from Canon

New Optimum and Optimum TS Downriggers from Canon

From rugged reliability to smooth integration of cutting edge technology across several different platforms, OSG's Lynn Burkhead learns that there's much to like about the new Optimum and Optimum TS downriggers from Canon.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies can be profound, even when fishing the same lake or river. Fishing How-To

How to Catch Catfish Day and Night

Terry Madewell

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies...

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing. Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a species Catfish

10 Biggest Catfish World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - December 08, 2014

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Bow fisherman arrows fish of a lifetime on South Texas trip. Other Freshwater

240 Pounds! Massive Alligator Gar Taken on Father's Day

Lynn Burkhead - June 22, 2020

Bow fisherman arrows fish of a lifetime on South Texas trip.

The The eastern Georgia lake may be best known for its bass, but anglers will find more trophies in these waters than just largemouths. Georgia lake may be best known for its bass, but anglers will find more trophies in these waters than just largemouths. Fishing

Chase a Mixed-Bag Bite at Lake Oconee

Larry Larsen - April 28, 2020

The The eastern Georgia lake may be best known for its bass, but anglers will find more...

Various companies show appreciation to frontline defense – healthcare professionals – against the pandemic with special giveaway. News

Outdoors Industry Honoring Healthcare Heroes: COVID-19

April 27, 2020

Various companies show appreciation to frontline defense – healthcare professionals – against...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now