Why Are Lead Fishing Weights And Sinkers Banned?

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Depending on where you are in the world, you may not know that fishing with lead weights in certain cases is illegal. 

While across the United States, only some states have decided to ban lead weights, split shots, and lead-based lures. In 2017, an effort from the United States Federal Government was made to ban the use of lead in hunting and fishing, but it was quickly overturned. 

In the United Kingdom, certain size limits on lead are in place to keep the fishery safer for all wildlife. 

In this article, I will cover the following: 

  • Why Are Lead Fishing Weights Banned?
  • What Problems Can Lead Fishing Tackle Cause? 
  • Which States Ban Lead Weights In The United States?
  • Is Lead Fishing Weights Banned in the United Kingdom?
  • Are Lead-Based Sinkers Banned in Canada?
  • Are Lead-Based Sinkers Banned in Australia?
  • What Are The Alternatives To Lead-Based Sinkers?
  • Conservation Message
  • Final Thoughts

Why Are Lead Fishing Weights Banned?

Lead is a toxic metal, and fishing weights have been made from lead for many years. The ban on using lead for some fishing weights is due to its impact on the environment – mainly on birds and other aquatic wildlife. 

Anglers sometimes will lose lead weights, and they may fall into the rivers and lakes. Birds often eat small pebbles, which grind up their food. These round-shaped lead sinkers, weights, and jigs are then swallowed by the birds, which can result in their death.

In certain states in the US and other countries worldwide, lead of a certain size is banned. 

What Problems Can Lead Fishing Tackle Cause? 

While a single small lead split shot isn’t going to cause massive problems, a buildup of lead over time can damage anglers and the environment.

Lead Poisoning

The most obvious problem that lead can cause is lead poisoning. Any angler that’s been on the water for quite a few years can’t likely count how many times they bit down on lead split shots when rigging their rod. I had certain family members keep lead split shots in their mouths to be prepared for when it was time to rig their rod! 

You don’t want to put yourself through lead poisoning. It can cause long-lasting effects that are extremely dangerous! Lead dust in your tackle boxes or on your hard surfaces can cause damage.

Damage to Waterfowl 

Birds are the primary victims of lead poisoning. Before lead shot was banned for hunting, birds would ingest it while feeding on other things. Even when birds are feeding along the shore or diving under the surface, the lead angler’s use can dangerously come into play. 

The lead gets lodged in their gizzard and ruins their digestive system. Over-ingestion of lead can kill birds within a long period of time. Birds like ducks, swans, and loons are the most at risk from lead poisoning due to your fishing gear.

Birds will choose an extremely small split shot to help digest their food. Usually, gravel is the choice, but they cannot tell the difference. 

Damage to Water Animals 

Other animals, like beavers, raccoons, otters, and muskrats, are also vulnerable to lead poisoning. While it’s not overly common, it can absolutely happen! 

Soil And Water 

Lead also can contaminate soil and water and then be taken up by plants and aquatic invertebrates.

Fish Eggs

While adult fish are rarely in trouble due to lead split shot, fish eggs are the primary vulnerable population. If the split shot sits amongst the eggs, it can cause them to slow development and ultimately be ruined.

Which States Ban Lead Weights In The United States?

Lead free fishing area
No lead fishing areas such as this will eventually become more common

At this point, states can determine whether or not lead split shots should be banned. Certain states have already banned them! 

Six states currently have a ban on lead weights!

New Hampshire,

New York,





Are Lead Sinkers Banned In California?

Since California is one of the most environmental states in the US, it is surprising that lead fishing weights are not banned. Lead fishing weights are still legal to use but have recently been under scrutiny from California’s Department of Toxic Substances Contro. 

California has prohibited the use of lead ammunition for hunting on state lands since 2015, and it has been extended to any hunting since July 1, 2019.

In the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but President Donald Trump’s administration overturned that effort. Fishing weights made with lead will likely become illegal in the near future.

What Size Lead Weights Are Banned In The US?

These six states primarily ban lead sinkers or jigs that weigh one ounce or less. Vermont is a  little less strict and ban sinkers weighing 0.5 ounces or less.

Massachusetts has only made it illegal to use the weights, but there is no law against selling them!

No other states have yet to join the charge to ban lead in fishing tackle. 

Many states have banned lead for hunting! Since birds are the primary species in danger, they require steel and other metals to be used in hunting. 

Are Lead Fishing Weights Banned in the United Kingdom?

In the late-1980 the United Kingdom introduced rules to limit the sale of lead weights, including split shots, sinkers, and lead tackle. In the United Kingdom, anglers are only allowed to use lead weights if they weigh 0.06 grams or less and use them if they weigh more than 28.35 grams. In United States terms, you can use split shots ranging from size 14 to size 8 and any lead weights over 1 ounce.

Therefore, there are some slightly different laws on illegal fishing weight sizes. The United Kingdom banned the use of lead sinkers under 1 oz in 1987 after it was discovered that lead poisoning resulted in over 4,000 swans dying.

A study by Franson in 1999 concluded that the poisoning of swans fell by 70% in the Thames Valley following the enactment of this law. Since then, lead fishing weights under 1 oz remained banned.

Are Lead-Based Sinkers Banned in Canada?

Legislation regarding lead-based sinkers varies depending on the province. The Canadian federal government has made it illegal to use any lead-based sinker or jig weighing 1.7 oz or 0.79 inches in length or less in national parks.

The weight and size requirement helps with preventing birds from eating these smaller weights. You will need to follow your individual province on the updated regulations because the rules keep changing.

Are Lead-Based Sinkers Banned in Australia?

Australia is generally at the forefront of environmental issues and has made recommendations to tackle this problem, just like some other countries.

However, solid restrictions are still not in place, and the Australian government only encourages anglers to use lead-free alternatives.

Are Lead Fishing Weights Banned In Europe?

A widespread ban on selling and using fishing lead weights in Europe has already been proposed with three years of a staged implementation. 

The first stage will cover lead fishing weights under 50g, followed by banning lead fishing weights over 50g within five years. from the date a ban is brought into force.

This ruling is similar to that of the UK, where small and large weights will be banned, not just large sizes.

What Are The Alternatives To Lead-Based Sinkers?

There is a slow and gradual push from all corners of the world to stop using lead sinkers, but no sustainable replacement has been provided.

But the effects of using lead fishing weights have started getting recognized by some of the largest countries in the world. These countries have started to propose some restrictions on lead-based sinkers to create incentives to develop better alternative materials to make sinkers.

Tin and Steel Fishing Weights

Many companies and anglers are choosing to use steel split shots instead! Steel is a great alternative for a variety of reasons. First, they are cheap! They’re even cheaper than lead split shots were in their prime! Secondly, they’re fairly heavy. You don’t need a massive sinker attached to your line to get to the depth you need. 

Use a steel weight if you don’t need to attach the weight to your line via a crimping method. It’ll have a hole through the middle, so you can attach it to your line by sliding it onto it! 

Tungsten Fishing Weights

Tungsten is by far the most popular alternative to lead. As soon as the idea floated around that lead would be banned, companies immediately transitioned to tungsten. They look similar to lead in weight and texture. You may find that tungsten weights are a bit smaller than the lead weights you used to use. 

Tungsten is slightly more brittle, so it can break if knocked against a rock or pinched too hard onto the line. While it’s not a massive difference, beware of this when making your purchase. 

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of tungsten is that it’s relatively expensive. You’ll find that many anglers are still purchasing the lead weights where it’s still legal because of the higher price of tungsten. 

Brass Fishing Weights

If you’re a bass angler, you’re very familiar with using brass. Brass is used when you’re fishing a Texas rig or hoping for some bottom-bouncing action. 

You’ll also find brass used as bead heads on flies. It’s a noisy metal, so if you know you need to attract some fish via sound, it’s a great option. 

Non-Lead Fishing Weight Alternative Costs?

Unfortunately, fishing weights in these materials are more expensive to produce and, therefore, to purchase compared to lead. Manufacturing on a larger scale will eventually reduce the costs, especially if more states and countries increase the lead weight bans.

Thankfully, the fishing industry and many anglers have adapted to the recent changes in legislation. Most companies are striving to create alternatives to lead with their split shot. They are better options for everyone involved!

Conservation Message

Ducks and geese
Ducks and geese are prone to eating small fishing weights

Efforts to conserve the waters we fish are most productive when each angler does what they deem fit to keep our waters safe. 

I strongly advocate that we ALL should do our part to keep the water safe, which can be different for each individual. Some anglers are willing to spend the extra money to buy tungsten split shot instead of lead. Other anglers take extra precautions not to lose lead weights and clean up any excess line they leave along the banks. 

So, let us all do our part, follow the rules and regulations, and we can keep our waters safe for generations to come! 

Weighing Up

Lead sinkers, split shots, and leaded lures are on their way out, and rightfully so. With more people fishing than ever, we must do our best as anglers to preserve our waters. Any little detail we can improve, will result in healthier fisheries.

Let’s take pride in keeping our wilderness areas as productive as possible. 

You can read more articles on how anglers can impact the environment by checking out my articles on Why is braided fishing line banned? And also, Why are Tiger Nuts Banned?

Steve Fitzjohn