Proposed ocean use rules draw criticism

Whether residents and business owners think it’s a good idea or not to limit commercial use of the ocean, they appear to agree on one thing — a package of proposed rules governing commercial use is convoluted and confusing.


Whether residents and business owners think it’s a good idea or not to limit commercial use of the ocean, they appear to agree on one thing — a package of proposed rules governing commercial use is convoluted and confusing.

About 35 people showed up for a public hearing with officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Thursday night at Kealakehe High School, and a half dozen gave oral testimony. Chief among the changes are limits on the number of commercial use permits that can be held by any single business, and new restrictions on the number of ramp permits the state may issue to tour operators, charter boats and other commercial enterprises.

A new 30-day grace period would allow commercial operators a window to get their permits current if they forget to renew on time.

“I don’t know who has drafted these. The sentences go on and on stringing thoughts together,” said Vicki Kalman, who has followed the rule-making since 2010 and whose husband Ray owns Kona Sea Sports.

“There remains a structural defect that makes it incredibly hard for us folks to understand,” she said.

Some prominent ocean recreation companies own up to a half dozen commercial use permits. Under a “grandfather” provision, they’ll be able to keep them, but new businesses will be limited to two permits. Additionally, the state proposes to limit the number of commercial ramp permits that may be in effect at any one time at various locations. The permits allow a commercial vessel to use a specific ramp.

In West Hawaii, 35 permits would be allowed for Honokohau Harbor, 11 for Keauhou Bay, six for Kailua Pier, 10 for Kawaihae South, five for Kawaihae North and four for Puako. On the east side, Wailoa Small Boat Harbor would be limited to 10 and Poihiki to four.

Honokohau Harbor currently has about 50 ramp permits in place. Some permits will go away over time as operators fail to renew, fall short of meeting the minimum gross yearly receipts that are required to hold the permit, or otherwise drop out of the permitting system.

“It’ll be a few years before we get down to 35,” said DOBOR Administrator Ed Underwood, who presided over the meeting with Interim Hawaii District Manager Daniel Mersburgh. Nancy Murphy has been on extended leave.

Several speakers agreed that places of high interest like manta ray dive areas are getting too crowded with commercial operators.

“We could see that commercial activity unchecked was not going to be good for our community,” said Charles Young, representing the Honaunau-based group Kamaaina United To Protect The Aina. “We’re uncomfortable with what appears a limitless amount of permits applied for and approved.”

But Rick Gaffney, president of the Hawaii Fishing &Boating Association, said the rules are anti-business and discourage entrepreneurs from entering the ocean recreation industry.

“Our attempts to participate in the rule-making process were rebuffed at every turn, and our input was largely ignored in the rules package we are here to testify about tonight,” Gaffney said, reading from written testimony.

Underwood — who engaged the audience in an informal discussion after the hearing — said commercial operations are mushrooming across the state, including Keauhou Bay.

“That area is very congested,” Underwood said. “The parking situation is bad; it’s gotten to the point where it’s interfering with recreational activity.”

New rules will require commercial operators to register their surfboards, canoes and other water sports equipment and pay fees ranging from $1 for surfboards to $5 for canoes.

“Does this mean the swim noodles and boogie boards on my charter boat fall under this?” Kalman asked. “I think it’s going to be impossible to regulate and enforce … I’m at loss to see what fiscal gain would offset the administrative burden.”

One audience member asked Underwood to respond to “the alienation and lack of engagement with the boating community.”

“My door has always been open. I give my cell out to people,” Underwood said. “We’ve been talking about these rules for years now.”

People don’t need to wait for a public hearing to weigh in; they can call the DOBOR office, Underwood said.

“I’ll walk you through the rules,” he said.


DOBOR will consider the public comments and may make adjustments to the rules before it sends them to the Land Board and then to the governor’s office. Substantial changes would have to go back out for another public hearing, Underwood said.

Written public testimony will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Thursday by email to, Attn: Title 13, Section #, or by mail to the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, 333 Queen St., Suite 300, Honolulu, HI 96813, Attn: Title 13, Section #. The proposed rules can be found at online at the DOBOR website at

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