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Maine's Legislature Thought About Banning Soft Plastic Lures

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 1/31/2014

During the course of going through new releases to post on Fish Explorer, I ran across this tidbit released by the American Sportsfishing Association, "Maine Department Recommends No Legislative Action on Soft Bait Ban." At first glance, I wasn’t going to post it.  Maine is a long ways away, but the “Soft Bait Ban” part caught my attention and begged the question, “Why would any state be considering a ban on soft baits?”  Which I correctly presumed meant soft plastic lures, a favorite of bass anglers; all types of anglers for that matter.

It seems that last year Maine’s legislature considered bills to ban soft baits and to require the use of degradable hooks for recreational fishing.  Enough public uproar resulted in the legislature directing the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “…to study effects of artificial fishing lures made of rubber and soft plastic and non-biodegradable hooks for fishing,” before acting. This resulted in the production of a report on the subject.

The good news is it looks like Maine’s legislature will go with the Departments recommendations and not move forward to pass the 2013 bills.  But the news release does a poor job of explaining why were such bills were considered in the first place?  To answer that question you need to read the report. Here’s my quick take on the concerns.

  1. The ingestion of Soft Plastic Lures (SPLs) by fish, especially salmonids.
  2. Hooks not degrading in a timely fashion.
  3. Potential environmental impact of plasticizers, such as phthalates, including health risks to fish, animals, and people.
  4. SPLs are not readily biodegradable, despite claims to the contrary and there are no established standards as to what biodegradable means. 
  5. Ingredients used SPLs are not listed by manufacturers, making it difficult to evaluate potential impacts on the aquatic biota.

The study made several recommendations.

  1. Education efforts to better understand potential impacts of SPLs.
  2. Develop collection and recycling programs for discarded SPLs so they stay out of the environment.
  3. Encourage retailers and anglers to consider selling and buying only biodegradable SPL products and encourage manufacturers to develop new alternatives that are made of 100% biological material.

My thoughts on this are there may be some legitimate concerns.  But my real concern is not the issues themselves, which are likely readily resolvable. If, and it’s a big if, anglers will educate themselves to these issues and take the simple actions recommened that will go a long way to mitigating the concerns.

No, my real concern is that most anglers are going to poo-poo this, stick their heads back in the “sand,” and go fishing.  Unfortunately, whether or not we think these are serious issues, a legislature did, which means we need to pay attention, as who's to say our legislature won't consider similar actions? 

So I encourage you, my fellow anglers, to read the news section regularly, stay abreast of the issues, and delve deeper into the issues than presented in the news.  In this case follow the link provided and read the report yourself. Failure to do so could result in waking one day and finding that your favorite lure is no longer available because some well-intentioned, but misguided legislature passed a law banning its sale and use

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
Lloyd Tackitt, 1/31/2014 10:52:18 AM
I've never given that a thought but it certainly merits thinking about. Especially in heavily fished water where it may have a measurably detrimental impact. I use soft plastics fairly routinely and lose some of them when I do. I know that if I had a choice between biodegradable and non-biodegradable I would choose the biodegradable even at a higher price.
shiverfix, 1/31/2014 11:08:52 AM
I have found a lot of references to a UW study that said 25 million pounds of soft plastics end up in the environment every year, however I have been unable to track down the actual study.
opencage, 1/31/2014 3:01:56 PM
I second the suggestion to reading more fishing news. The voluntary digestion of SPLs study of the report certainly seems to suggest that a minimum, fish who eat them lose weight and become less healthy. Either way, paying attention to news about recreation is usually fun, educational, and occasionally critical to the sport.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/31/2014 8:26:30 PM
I found it interesting that they're recommending the used of biodegradable, but there's little evidence that most of the advertised biodegradable product actually are. At least in any time period I'd consider reasonable, say the time it takes a fish to biodegrade.
Tbubb, 1/31/2014 9:05:56 PM
Lloyd, Adding one more thought upon to your own, I had considered what you are saying now before - (IE Gulp) but had not considered - when it DOES biodegrade, what does it become? Is it stable? Is it safe? Is in an endocrine disruptor? Mutagen? Teratogen? In some cases, things that do not break down may in fact be safer than something that does. It begs further study for sure. I'm not sure that the laws really consider the safety of the metabolites of a product. Now I'd curious (and still a nerd).
Lloyd Tackitt, 1/31/2014 11:50:30 PM
I am quickly coming to the conclusion that I am going to quit using soft plastic baits until I study this in depth, there are just too many questions and my instinct tells me they are valid questions and that plastic baits are likely to cause some harm. I am not one to cause harm when it need not be caused. So I think I will take a personal hiatus from using them. And see what develops.
Coyute, 2/1/2014 5:12:55 AM
IMO, If a legislature comes up with an idea or identifies a serious problem, 90% of it is going to be self serving crap anyway. Also, there are a better news sources without as much editorial bias. Then I can decide for myself. :)
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 2/1/2014 7:02:27 AM
On gulp being biodegradable, in the report there is a picture of a jar of lake water with a gulp lure, nice and healthy after a year. While it may eventually break down, over a year makes it suspect in my mind. Press releases by their nature have the bias of the organization releasing them. We don't modify them, just post them. As to this blog, I provided the source link (to the actual report) for folks to read and make up their own mind. On legislatures, yes they may have an agenda, but if we don't pay attention to their doings, those agendas may become laws we could do without. Won't want gulp to become illegal now would we!
Coyute, 2/1/2014 7:15:27 AM
It is well documented that you don't like gulp products. We get it. And posting select news stories that jive with a person's own agenda is still bias.
anglerwannabe, 2/1/2014 8:48:33 AM
little different concern for me. What I see is the anti-hunt\fish crowd perpetuating something for their agenda. We as outdoorsman have a tendency to not react and then when we lose a right, then we try to act. This appears to be something that "sounds" plausible, not so sure how well it will stand up under scrutiny. Example - lead shot vs steel shot, not allowed to use lead because of how detrimental it is to birds, fish etc. And yet there isn't any ban on lead fishing weights, anchors and such. And in TX most dove hunting is done over or near water, no ban on lead shot there. The next step is as mentioned, hooks will now have to be biodegradable? The route isn't to ban fishing or hunting outright. Simply to make it so expensive most will no longer be able to afford to go. Or so many laws that no matter what you do, you are breaking a law.
Lloyd Tackitt, 2/1/2014 9:19:20 AM
A quick google search on this topic turned up a surprising number of informative articles. It quickly becomes apparent that there is a vast amount of plastic lures accumulating in our fisheries, including salt water. There is a good bit of anectdotal evidence that fish are eating these lost plastics, and some are actually dying as a result. The sheer volume of these things is mind-boggling, and they've been accumulating since the 1960s. Even B.A.S.S. tournaments are modifying their practices. How long a non-degradable plastic lure lasts under water isn't clear yet, but if it's anything like other plastics....
Bassnfly, 2/1/2014 2:08:57 PM
I had already read much about this when it came out last year. Even commented a time or two. But reading about it again set my knee to jerking furiously with anger. Especially when I read that some take this as a serious threat to fisheries. Not that it should not be addressed, and I think Maine has done that, but ending the use of SPL's as a viable solution is about a knee jerk a reaction as my blog that came of reading this.