Protecting Nesting Loons in Minnesota by Getting the Lead Out!
Help is on the way for common loons thanks to a project approved by the Open Ocean Trustees in their first post-settlement restoration plan. Common loons nest around Minnesota’s lakes each year after the spring thaw. Each winter, they migrate south, including to the Gulf of Mexico, where many were injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The loon restoration project aims to help restore the bird population in a number of ways, including by reducing exposure to lead-based fishing tackle. Other parts of the project include acquiring loon breeding habitat and providing nesting platforms.
Last winter, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff and the Get the Lead Out team, in partnership with the Trustees, began engaging with the public on the topic of the harmful effects of lead tackle on common loons. They staffed booths at five outdoor sporting shows, which are well attended each winter by Minnesotans eager for the spring thaw and the resumption of fishing, boating and camping.
Team members racked up about 1,500 surveys about attendees’ tackle use and opinions on its potential wildlife impacts. They also distributed about 3,500 sample packs of lead-free tackle. All this work was done as Minnesotans were waiting for their favorite lakes and recreation spots to open.
Open water fishing in Minnesota begins in early May. Opening day is a major event with hundreds of thousands of anglers heading out to the state’s lakes. An organized event, the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener features the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, their guests and staff launching boats at dawn— rain, snow or shine. Unfortunately, for the first time in 72 years, the celebratory opener festivities were cancelled this year due to worldwide health concerns.
With shelter at home executive orders and other restrictions lasting well into spring, Minnesota’s team began reconfiguring its 2020 activities. The team quickly revamped the approach to disseminating the Get the Lead Out message.
The team is engaging Minnesotans virtually through social media and third-party partners, such as lake and river associations, to increase the use of non-lead tackle. The team also is developing new engagement approaches intended to spur friendly competition for free non-lead tackle sample packets and other products. The goal is to excite anglers about the growing variety of non-lead tackle and encourage them to retool their tackle boxes.
The Minnesota Get the Lead Out project team is not letting the need to change tactics weigh them down. They’re up and running and encouraging Minnesota fishermen to Get the Lead out of tackle boxes and help protect loons that migrate back from the Gulf of Mexico each year.