To All Hawaiʻi Tour Boat Operators,
The Ocean Tourism Coalition (“OTC”) would like to provide a statement regarding bill HB1090 and recent social media statements that portray OTC as the driving force behind HB1090 with the desire to put small operators out of business. First, OTC has spent over three decades fighting for all ocean operators of all sizes.
In recent years, there has been growing conflict between recreational ocean users, political groups, and commercial operators. In fact, numerous lawsuits have been filed against the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (“DOBOR”) to reduce commercial operations across the State. OTC has spent significant sums to fight these lawsuits to ensure commercial operators do not lose their commercial use permits.
One of the main issues raised by those seeking to reduce commercial operations is the fact that DOBOR has issued more permits than allowed by the Hawaiʻi Administrative Rules in certain locations across the State. To address these concerns, DOBOR has proposed numerous bills over the course of the last decade that would give them the ability to reduce permits by creating an auction system, including issuing permits to the highest bidder on a yearly basis. OTC has vehemently opposed such bills and successfully prevented their passage by arguing the massive costs to operators, the uncertainty of operating year to year, and the inability of smaller companies to outbid larger companies that may have access to mainland funds.
However, DOBOR has stated that the growing outcry by various community groups has pushed them to take drastic measures to reduce the number of commercial permits down to what is allowed under the current administrative rules. This includes the cancelling of all permits anywhere the number of permits allowed by law has been exceeded, and then reissuing permits by random lottery. In response to OTC’s strong objections to a lottery system, DOBOR proposed HB1090 to create a seniority-based system. After much thought and discussion, OTC believed that a seniority-based system that is reflective of the current waitlist system, would be less harmful than issuing permits by lottery. As a result, OTC did not speak out against HB1090 as it had done with the companion bill SB1388. HB1090 is now heading to the Governor’s desk for signature or veto.
Any operator that disagrees with the passage of HB1090 should reach out to their local legislators and the Governor and voice their concerns.
To be clear, HB1090 is not an “OTC Bill” as has been portrayed by some. In reality, HB1090 is the State’s attempt to solve a problem of their own creation. OTC did the best it could under difficult circumstances. HB1090 is just one of the many challenges facing the tour boat industry, with many more challenges to come in the years ahead. OTC will continue to do all it can to protect tour boat operators and the marine resources we all depend on, but we cannot succeed without industry support. As the saying goes, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”