State officials see spike in illegal commercial ocean activity as tourism industry booms

State officials see spike in illegal commercial ocean activity as tourism industry booms

WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State enforcement officers say Hawaii's booming tourism industry is encouraging more and more illegal commercial activity in state ocean waters.

Dolphin Excursions Hawaii in Waianae has been fully-licensed to operate dolphin and whale tours since 1998.

President Victor Lozano said even though state tourism is up, business is down about 10 percent from this time last year.

He believes it's because business is being taken by illegal operators.

"The expenses of running a business in Hawaii along with the regulations, I try to do all of that," Lozano said. "So when you have someone circumventing the law, that's frustrating."

Lozano snapped  photos last week of what he said appeared to be an illegal kayak tour operation in Makua. He filed a complaint with the state land department, but said no action was taken.

"They take all the information, they call you and follow up asking what did you see and stuff, but if they can't catch them in the act, it's kind of hard," said Lozano. "DLNR is underfunded and understaffed. It's hard for them to be everywhere at the same time."

The state agency doesn't disagree.

Enforcement officer Carlton Helm said he runs into some kind of illegal activity at least once a week.

"They're pretty illusive, but they're out there," Helm said.

DLNR's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement said there are currently 120 DOCARE officers in charge of statewide enforcement on land and see. It's trying to fill 20 vacancies.

"We're doing our best to enforce laws and minimize conflicts with various users who are out in our ocean waters every day," said DOCARE Deputy Chief Jason Redulla.

Lozano said he just wants more officers patrolling the area.

"If there is any way they can just be on the beach and educate people," Lozano said. "With their presence they'll discourage illegal operations."

When asked if state laws are tough enough and enforceable, Redulla said the agency is always willing to look at that.

Anyone conducting commercial business in state ocean waters must obtain a permit from DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.

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