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CONCORD— A ban on lead sinkers and jigs, which conservationists say is the leading cause of loon deaths, is one step closer after the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee on Wednesday supported the prohibition.
The committee voted 9-6 to pass Senate Bill 89 and to extend the prohibition date for selling lead sinkers and jigs weighting one ounce or less for one year to June 1, 2016. The extension will give business owners another year to sell their inventory of sinkers and jigs, said Rep. Stephen Ketel, D-Dover.
The bill is similar to one last year the House sent to interim study hoping fishermen and conservationists with the help of Fish and Game Department officials could arrive at a compromise, but that did not happen as few meetings were held.
Most Republicans on the committee pushed to retain the bill for a year, saying that would give the two sides more time to reach an understanding and the committee more time to determine whether scientific data supports the ban.
They said the bill is flawed, would hurt small businesses in the state at a time when the New Hampshire's loon population is growing, not decreasing.
Bill supporters on the committee argued no more study is needed, instead they said it is time to pass the bill and begin reducing the threat of lead to loons and to the environment.
Pushing for more study, committee member Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, said the bill will mean less fishing on the state's lakes when the Fish and Game Department seeks additional funds for search and rescue operations. The agency is largely funded by proceeds from fishing and hunting licenses.
"All year long we listen to Fish and Game," he said, "yet on this bill, we turn our backs on them." The agency opposed the bill, asking for more time to work with different interest groups.
Burt and others said the department will not be able to enforce the ban and does not have the authority to stop the sale of tackle.
"There is no enforcement in this bill," said Rep. James Webb, R-Derry. "There is no way of enforcing this."
Others said sales enforcement is up to the Attorney General and that office would delegate the authority to local police departments, which are already stretched thin.
Committee chair and bill co-sponsor, Rep. Benjamin Lefebvre, D-Grantham, said the issue has had multiple years of study and any additional review will "not show anything but lead kills loons and other birds in this state. We should not be kicking this can down the road anymore."
He said Massachusetts passed a similar ban last year and sold more fishing licenses not less.
Lefebvre also noted the Fish and Game Department has been enforcing the current ban on sinkers. The bill would only expand the prohibited sinkers and jigs, he said.
But Rep. Joe Duarte, R-Candia, noted the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been asked three times to ban lead sinkers and three times has refused because there is not sufficient date on the overall effect of lead on loons.
Rep. David Kidder, R-New London, said the federal agency advised that it was a state's prerogative to act on lead sinkers and jigs.
"We know lead kills loons, let's go ahead with this because it will take a generation to save our loons," Kidder said. "New Hampshire should be leading the way."
The committee voted 8-7 not to retain the bill, and then voted 9-6 to recommend the bill pass the full House.
Burt said he would attempt to kill the bill when it comes to the House floor.
Loon Preservation Center chief biologist and executive director Larry Vogel said after the vote the committee made the right decision based on the data, noting his organization with the help of Tufts University has collected 20 years of data.
"It's not mercury, and it's not the loss of shoreline habitat," he said "It's lead, that is the low-hanging fruit."
The House will vote on SB 89, which passed the Senate without opposition, before the end of the month.