HARTFORD -- The state Department of Environmental Protection has joined state sportsmen and fishing tackle retailers in opposing legislation that would ban the sale and use of lead sinkers and jigs by October 2012.

Fines would range between $500 and $5,000, with the possibility of a year in prison.

The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, co-chairman of the Environment Committee, is aimed at removing lead from the environment, particularly in bodies of water where it may affect bottom-feeding fish and waterfowl.

But the DEP, the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen and the retailers said, if enacted into law, the bill would drive up the cost of fishing tackle and address a problem of lead contamination that doesn't exist in the state because most waterfowl do not dive deep enough to ingest lead.

Pat Abate, owner of Rivers End Tackle in Old Saybrook, said that lead is inexpensive, it is moldable and it is time-honored in weighing down fishing lines and lures, depending on the type of fish being pursued.

"It's been widely used in fishing tackle and while there is an alternative in very light weights, there's no alternative in heaviest weights," said Abate as he awaited his spot in an afternoon-long hearing Monday on 14 separate bills before the committee.

He said that in salt water, weights vary from 1 to 24 ounces.

"There doesn't seem to be any scientific basis for it as far as what harm it does to birds in the state of Connecticut," Abate said.

"There's never been a study on what it does," said Matt Hillyer, owner of Hillyer's Tackle Shop in Waterford.

"To just come out with a bill without knowing what you're dealing with first, you shouldn't just throw out bills because they sound good."

Abate said the statewide tackle industry is suffering from competition from popular online sales, as well as diminishing fisheries, new state salt-water licenses and shortened seasons.

"Economically, we're being squeezed, so why make another regulation that has no basis to hurt business even more?" Abate said.

The bill would affect weights of an ounce or less and also prohibit the use of the toxic metal in the use of balancing the tires of motor vehicles, with possible fines, through the state Department of Consumer Protection, of up to $25,000.

Amy W. Marrella, commissioner of the DEP, said in prepared testimony submitted to the committee that the documented toxicity of lead understandably led to the introduction of the legislation.

"However, we are not aware of any evidence suggesting that lead in fishing tackle has an effect on the population level of any species of fish or wildlife in our state," she said.

"This includes various bird species, such as loons and eagles, for which lead-related mortalities have been documented elsewhere," Marrella said.

"While alternative materials exist for manufacturing fishing sinkers and jigs, they are more costly, some significantly more so, than those made of lead.

"As such, an outright ban on the sale and use of lead sinkers and jigs would represent an unreasonable burden to the citizens and fishing related businesses of Connecticut."

She said she believes the fishing industry can gradually develop safer alternatives and introduce them over time.

She also said that if the bill moves forward, any future bans should be centered on the sale of lead sinkers and that prohibitions for use eventually be phased in over several years.

"Furthermore, the department would suggest that any ban only affect sinkers equal to and less than one-half ounce in mass as these smaller and lighter sinkers are significantly more likely to be accidentally ingested by waterfowl than those of greater weight and size," Marrella said.

State Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the committee, said the bill attracted a light turnout, a barometer that may coincide with a lack of overall committee support when it comes time to vote.

"Generally, when there is disinterest in the populace, there's a disinterest to do the bill," Roy said in an interview.

Bob Crook, president of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said he doubts the bill, which is also opposed by the Bass Federation, will win committee approval.

"I think common sense will prevail," Crook said.