ST. PAUL -- Minnesota state lawmakers are starting to talk about more than just COVID-19 and battling with each other, with legislation introduced in recent weeks that would ban the use of small lead fishing jigs and sinkers and another bill to lower the state’s general walleye bag limit from six fish to four.

Minnesota lawmakers are in their long session, held every other year, that started Jan. 4 and is set to run to May 17. So don’t expect anything to happen too quickly, with several hearings to be held on each bill before anything advances.

Bills must pass both the Senate and House in the same form and then be signed by the governor to become law.

The lead fishing tackle ban, which has been introduced several times in recent decades but has always failed to advance, addresses a chronic issue of lead poisoning of loons and other birds when the birds ingest small sinkers and jigs lost by anglers while fishing.

Lead is a highly toxic substance, banned for years in gasoline and paint because of deadly toxicity to humans and also banned in shotgun ammunition for waterfowl hunting. Even a tiny lead sinker can kill loons, which ingest the lead pieces while picking up small pebbles on the bottoms of lakes and rivers that are used to digest their food.

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The bills would ban the manufacture, sale and use of lead tackle one ounce or smaller in weight or smaller than 2.5 inches long.

The bills give anglers, stores and manufacturers more than three years — until July 1, 2024 — to make the transition to nontoxic tackle such as tungsten, brass or tin. The lead ban would not apply to larger sinkers, weights or jigs heavier than an ounce, or to lead core fishing line, larger bottom bouncers, spoons or other tackle.

Several other states and provinces already have enacted similar bans of small lead fishing tackle.

Critics of a lead ban have said Minnesota’s loon population is not declining and that the move will cost anglers more money for lead substitutes like tungsten. But supporters say the cost increase is just pennies per unit and that any loons killed by lead poisoning, when other tackle options exist, is too many.

The chief sponsor of HF157 is Rep. Peter Fisher, DFL-Maplewood. The chief sponsor of SF247 is Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood.

Other bills

  • State Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, has introduced a bill to lower the state’s general walleye bag limit from six fish daily to four fish. The bill, HF100, wouldn’t impact lakes or rivers that already have special regulations or lower walleye limits, such as Mille Lacs or Red Lake, but would impact waters where the current limit is six. The Senate version of the bill, SF12, was introduced by Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point. The statewide walleye limit hasn't changed in Minnesota since 1956 when it went from eight to six.
  • Ecklund also is the chief author of a bill already advancing at the Capitol that would expand rifle use for deer hunting statewide, not just in the northern regions, eliminating the shotgun-only zone that has existed for most of southern and far western Minnesota for decades.

RELATED: Read more outdoors issues stories in Northland Outdoors

  • Bob Meier, the DNR's assistant commissioner for policy and government relations, testified Tuesday in favor of the provision, saying it simplifies statewide regulations. Ecklund’s bill, HF219, also addresses chronic wasting disease issues, expands a provision prohibiting the importation of deer and elk carcasses and includes changes to muzzleloader regulations.
  • HF119, introduced by Rep. Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield, and SF283, introduced by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, would allow hunters to substitute a valid permit to carry instead of having a firearms safety certificate. Firearms safety certificates currently are required for anyone born since 1980 before they can purchase a state hunting license.
  • HF320, introduced by Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, would provide $1 million to the DNR over the next two years for a new grant program to local school districts to provide enhanced firearms safety, hunting, archery and angling activities as part of physical education classes.