HONOLULU(KHON2) — A bill sitting on the governor’s desk could impact dozens of businesses across the state. HB1090 is meant to help the Department of Land and Natural Resources control the number of commercial permits issued for boat ramps in protected ocean areas.

DLNR admitted there are more permits than there should be. Business owners who worry their permits will not be reissued, putting them out of business.

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Manta ray tours, fishing charters, and scenic boat rides — all very popular activities.

But in recent years, some claim over commercialization is putting Hawaii’s pristine waters, wildlife and resources at risk.

HB1090, which passed this legislative session, is now awaiting the governor’s signature.

Tim Lyons, executive director of Ocean Tourism Coalition, supported the bill and said they hope it will help strike some balance.

“It basically creates a system to better regulate the issuance of commercial use permits,” Lyons explained. “Those are the permits that are allowed for boats to go out and take people out for diving or snorkeling or whatever.”

In a statement, DLNR said:

“HB1090 was introduced to give the department options for issuing commercial use permits in areas where the number of commercial use permits would be reduced due to overuse i.e. the manta rules for Hawaii island. In the past, the department did not have the authority to deny the issuance of commercial use permits unless it was specified in rule. In 2014, the department engaged in rule-making to set limits on commercial use permits for the state’s small boat harbors and launch ramps. When people heard about the new rules, there was a run on permits and the department could not deny the issuance of the permits because the rules were not finalized. The proposed limits were quickly exceeded and past practice was to reduce the number of commercial permits by attrition. The issue with attrition is that the vast majority of businesses are incorporated so the business is usually sold and the permits transfer with the business so attrition is basically non-existent.”

HB1090 also addresses areas where the current commercial permits exceed the limits in rule.

This was primarily done to address the numerous complaints being received by the legislature and department regarding the over-commercialization of the state’s nearshore waters and public facilities. In these types of situations, permits will first be issued to the longest-standing businesses and once the limit is reached the remaining permits will not be reissued.”

“I think that idea of just reducing the amount of people up there isn’t going to solve the main issues at hand,” said Seth Conae.

Conae owns and operates Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii out of Honokohau Harbor on Hawaii island.

“The three main focuses that should be focused on are protecting Manta Rays, protecting people and protecting like the reef environment. And so currently, these things don’t really do that. It just limits operators to operate,” Conae said.

Conae worries the bill will put people out of business.

A concern echoed by many tour operators across the state.

“I have employees asking me, ‘Hey, should I start looking for other jobs?’ And this and that, and I’m like, I don’t know what to tell them,” said Cody Kimura, owner of Blue Ocean Adventures Tours on Kauai.

According to state revised statutes, Kikiaola Harbor, where Kimura operates his business, is allowed 10 commercial permits.

Kimura said there are more like 25 currently issued.

“I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of people just from our harbor alone are gonna lose their jobs,” he said. “We currently employ 49 local people here on the west side of Kauai.”

Lyons said the bill wasn’t meant to hurt businesses.

“I think this is more of an effort to cap what exists, then provide any sort of, you know, trigger mechanism that would cut anybody off,” Lyons explained.

The governor has until July 11 to sign or veto the bill, or let it become law without his signature.

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DLNR said if it does become law, they will work to come up with a plan to help any affected businesses.