NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

December 11, 2013

Editorial: NH canoe tax is a desparate money grab

It’s no secret that the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is strapped for cash.

How could it be when the department has been shouting the news from the rooftops for years?

Traditionally, the agency has been self-sustaining, paying expenses almost entirely out of the fees charged for hunting, fishing and other licenses and permits.

But the number of people buying hunting and fishing licenses has been declining for a decade, reflecting a nationwide change in recreation habits. But as fewer people take up the gun and the rod, who’s going to pay for Fish and Game services, not to mention the salaries and benefits of agency employees?

The answer, says Fish and Game, is to reach into the pockets of people who don’t hunt or fish.

Or, as the agency euphemistically puts it on its website, “to create a means for the broader public constituencies that benefit from the Department’s services to help contribute to its operations.”

By “contribute,” of course, they really mean “be forced to pay.”

Who might those “broader public constituencies” be? Oh, hikers, birders and other “wildlife watchers” — in fact, everyone who lives in or visits New Hampshire.

But the first target is boaters.

Operators of motor-powered boats already pay a fee for the privilege when they register their craft.

But like most states, including its revenue-ravenous neighbor, Massachusetts, New Hampshire does not charge for non-motorized vessels: canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sailboats, paddle boards, what-have-you.

A commission formed to find ways to improve the “sustainability” of Fish and Game recommended that New Hampshire start charging.

Now the chairman of the commission, state Sen. Robert Odell, R-Lempster, has filed legislation that would require owners to pay an annual fee of $10 for every dinghy, dory, punt, pram, shell, skiff or other example of the non-motorized fleet.

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