Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law this month to protect Maine’s loon population by phasing out the use and sale of certain small, painted lead fishing jigs.

A loon is seen in July 2018 during the annual loon count on Wilson Lake in Wilton. Livermore Falls Advertiser file photo

One of Maine’s most beloved wildlife species, loons are threatened by the use of painted lead fishing tackle, which Mills and experts have said can kill loons and other waterfowl.

Common loons can ingest lost or discarded fishing tackle at the bottom of the lakes, or consume smaller fish that have swallowed the tackle, which can lead to sickness or death.

Under the new law, retailers will be prohibited from selling the jigs beginning Sept. 1, 2024, while users will be banned from casting such tackle into state waters beginning Sept. 1, 2026. Lead sinkers impacted the state’s loon population before they were banned over five years ago.

The bill faced opposition from many sport fishing groups, including some that complained it would increase their costs because of the need to swap out fishing gear.

To alleviate the situation, the state and Maine Audubon have launched a program for users to exchange their lead fishing tackle for vouchers to buy lead-free equipment.


“Vouchers are currently available at four participating retailers, so if you turn in at least one ounce of lead tackle you get the $10 voucher to spend on lead-free tackle,” Melissa Kim, director communications and marketing for Maine Audubon,  wrote in a recent email. “We are always looking for more retailers to join the program; if anyone is interested, they should contact Laura Williams at With the new painted jig law rollout, Laura is planning on trying to get more shops on board and is hoping with the passing of the new law, that retailers will be more apt to sign on.

“Last winter, Laura attended several ice fishing derbies and all four sportsmen’s trade shows to pass out sample lead-free gear and collect tackle, and has plans to repeat that in 2024,” Kim wrote. “We also help community or lake organizations host tackle exchanges, and provide lead-free kits with lead-free tackle samples, outreach materials, flyers, stickers and cards that detail the law. Anglers can purchase and turn in lead tackle at many, many places – great list online at And of course we will take it at our two centers, Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth and Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden.”

The four retailers participating are Indian Hill Trading Post at Moosehead Lake, Dag’s Bait Shop in Auburn, BackWoods Bait and Tackle in Chesterville and Willey’s Sport Center in Auburn.

The Franklin Journal reached out to area lake associations about loon populations on their lakes and impacts that might be seen as a result of the new law.

“Our loon population has been hovering around five to six loons for several years now,” Sandra Muller, president of Friends of Wilson Lake, said recently. A loon was sitting on a nest at the beginning of the month, she said. “It has been on there a long time. With the high water, it is in an area that hopefully the water hasn’t gotten up to the nest. I am not sure the chick will survive.”

If the chick makes it, it will mean a lot to the town, to the children, Muller said. “We finance the Wayne Smith Lakes and Loons program every year in the school,” she said. “We got up here in time this year to attend it. It was superb. It is put on by FOWL and Biodiversity Research Inc. They come with a loon in a box and show the kids all the things on how to be kind to the loons and all about fishing, that whole issue of the safety of the loons, how to keep them safe.


“The law will mean a lot to the lakes in Maine, particularly our lake,” Muller said.

Muller said Judy Landry has been doing Maine Audubon’s annual loon count for about the past 10 years. For 40 years, volunteers early morning on the third Saturday in July have counted the loons seen on Maine lakes and ponds. Recorded observations provide a picture of Maine’s loon population.

“Sometimes we have loon visitors on the lake, but they don’t always stay,” Muller said. “They come and land on the lake and take off. We have counted five on the lake so far.”

During the loon count July 15, 11 loons were counted on Wilson Lake, but the chick was missing.

Buzz Davis, president of Clearwater Lake Association in Industry, said their loon count showed three adults and no chicks. Maine Audubon shows there were five adults last year and six adults seen in 2020 and 2021 but no chicks were seen. In 2010, 2012 and 2015 10 adults and no chicks were seen.

“The numbers have decreased,” Davis said. “The association is going to look into it. There are Maine Audubon programs. We will have them come next year, give focus to the decrease, see what we can do.”


The fisheries biologist has been contacted, the state wildlife biologist will be contacted, Davis said. “We will bring experts in, try to determine if there are reasons for the decrease and what we can do,” he noted.

Loons are very territorial, will only allow a certain number on any water body, Davis said. The rainy weather this year may have had an impact, he noted.

“We still have a healthy loon population, although it is down a bit,” Davis said. “We are going to look into it, see if there are any conservation efforts. We are in the investigative stage now. We will determine if there is a problem and then what to do.”

Davis said he hadn’t heard any concerns from anglers regarding cost or availability of fishing tackle when the law goes into effect.

Peter Judkins with Porter Lake Association in New Vineyard said his wife, Lisa Judkins, does the loon count and has seen three loons this year. “Later in the day we saw four,” he noted. “That is down from the 12 to 13 seen on the lake last year.”

Lise Bofinger, president of Webb Lake Association in Weld, said, “Our results have been remarkably consistent for a number of years, and that trend continued this year with 24 adults being counted. This year the artificial nest was not occupied, and the natural nest has been flooded multiple times, so unfortunately we do not have any chicks on the lake. We have had either one or two breeding pair on the lake over the last few years, one using an artificial/man-made nesting platform and the other building a natural nest on the shore.

“The natural nest has not been successful for the past few years, either due to flooding or predation,” Bofinger said. “Most years when we have had two chicks they are from the pair using the artificial platform. As I mentioned, the high water is very hard on ground nesting birds, like loons, as their nests flood and once those eggs are covered with water they will not hatch.”

Regarding the new law, anything that can be done to help the loon population is a good thing, Bofinger stressed. “This new law, which further regulates the use of lead in fishing tackle is a positive step in removing lead from our freshwater ecosystems. I have spoken to a few fishermen, they do not seem concerned about any small increases in expenses due to having to replace fishing tackle.”

Annual loon count survey results from 1983 to 2022 are available for each lake or pond from Maine Audubon Each waterbody has its own Midas number to locate it. Midas numbers are Clearwater Lake were 5190, Porter Lake 0012, Webb Lake 3672 and Wilson Lake/Pond 3682. People may also visit the following sites: Clearwater Lake, Porter Lake, Webb Lake and Wilson Lake/Pond.

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