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State Goes Undercover to Thwart Illegal Kayak Rentals

January 8, 2014, 4:13 PM HST (Updated January 8, 2014, 4:44 PM)
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The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is looking to impose the maximum civil fine of $2,500 against a Captain Cook man for allegedly conducting illegal commercial activity at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.

Officers with the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement went undercover in November to investigate unpermitted rentals of kayaks and other equipment at the popular bay known for its calm waters and teeming marine life.

Because of what it described as “voracious” visitor interest in kayaking in Kealakekua Bay – which has been designated a Marine Life Conservation District – the state last year instituted a moratorium on the use of vessels there.

As a result, launching of kayaks at the Napoopoo wharf and landings at Kaawaloa Flat, which is located across the bay near the Captain Cook Monument, were no longer allowed without a state permit.

Only the three companies previously issued special use permits were allowed to continue those launchings and landings.

According to the DLNR, before the moratorium, the heavy use of kayaks in the bay has for years resulted in negative impacts at Kaawaloa Flat, which contains sensitive archaeological sites.

That included an increase in in garbage and in human waste, as there are no restrooms there, and damage to near-shore coral by the landing of kayaks, the DLNR said.

The new rules also required existing permit-holders to take part four times a year in activities involving clearing Kaawaloa Flat of rubbish and human waste and cutting of vegetation encroaching on archaeological sites.

However, since the moratorium was issued, some kayaking vendors have begun soliciting customers in the parking lot adjacent to Napoopoo beach and launching tours from private, county and possibly state land, according to a DLNR report submitted to the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

The result has been “substantial parking and crowding problems” for residents of the area as well as other issues.

“Informal staff observations indicated that the illegal solicitation in the park was at times very aggressive where the various solicitors occasionally engaged in loud, angry and distasteful behavior debating as to who was to make the sale,” the report said.

To document the illegal activities, DOCARE Officer Matthew Gutierrez went to the park on Nov. 21 in plain clothes. There he was approached by 39-year-old Alexander Aquino as well as 27-year-old Nathan Kolii, who allegedly inquired whether Gutierrez was interested in renting a kayak.

The report said after some discussion of pricing with Aquino, who was allegedly operating a company called “Big Island Canoes,” he and Gutierrez reached an agreement to rent Gutierrez a three-person kayak and some snorkeling gear.

Gutierrez then contacted additional DOCARE officers nearby who arrested both Kolii and Aquino for allegedly carrying out commercial activities in the park without a permit.

The DLNR is asking the Board of Land and Natural Resources for approval to assess a $2,500 fine against Aquino.

The $2,500 civil fine is the maximum allowed under state law for a first offense. A second offense within five years could draw a fine of up to $5,000, which jumps to $10,000 for a third violation.

The state is seeking the maximum penalty because of the costs of the DOCARE operation, and to also demonstrate to others conducting similar solicitations the department’s commitment to stopping the illicit activities.

The land board is scheduled to take up the request at a meeting Friday in Honolulu.

Aquino and Kolii, who were booked at the Kealakehe Police Station and released without bail, are also apparently being prosecuted in criminal court for their alleged activities.

They were scheduled to make an appearance at a hearing Monday at Kona District Court on the charge, which is a petty misdemeanor with a minimum fine of $100 for a first offense.

The results of that hearing were not immediately available.

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