New Hampshire’s commercial lobster industry makes up 70 percent of the value of the state’s commercial catch. (Joe Raedle | Getty Images)
Lobsters were the unlikely subject of a lively debate on the Senate floor Thursday, culminating in the chamber voting down a bill that would have granted lobster licenses for recreational scuba divers.
Opponents of House Bill 1297 said it could harm the state’s commercial lobster industry, which makes up 70 percent of the value of the state’s commercial catch. In testimony, the chief of marine fisheries for New Hampshire Fish and Game, Cheri Patterson, pointed to an economic model estimating it contributes $132 million to the state economy. Opponents of the measure also said scuba divers harvesting lobster could damage the coastal environment, potentially harming lobster populations.
Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, spoke in favor of the measure. “All this is doing is allowing scuba divers to grab a couple of lobsters, to bring them home. They’re not allowed to sell them. You gain some revenue because there has to be a fee,” he said.
According to the bill, scuba divers would have had to harvest lobsters by hand, but they could use what’s called a “tickle stick” to prod at lobsters hiding underneath rocks, to encourage them to come out into the open.
“There’s real concern about the effect on the bottom. New Hampshire has the shortest coastline, right? And that bottom out there, what can be fished and what is habitable for lobsters is limited,” said Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, who opposed the bill. “That’s why it’s been so important to make sure that that marine habitat is maintained in a healthy way.”
Many commercial lobstermen testified against the legislation, while scuba divers spoke in favor of it, saying they too should have access to the natural resource. Fish and Game currently grants recreational licenses for trapping lobster, but diving to catch them is illegal.
The Fish and Game Commission, the Fish and Game Department, and the Yankee Fisherman’s Co-op also opposed the legislation.
The bill arrived at the floor without a committee recommendation, having split the committee vote evenly, 2-2. The Senate voted to kill the bill on a voice vote.
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