The state fined a lava boat tour operator $15,000 for conducting commercial activity without the required permit.
Kohala Tour’s lava boat operator Shane Turpin was fined Friday for three violations that occurred in February.
The state said Turpin repeatedly launched LavaKai II from the Pohoiki boat launch ramp without a valid commercial use ramp permit.
Turpin’s other company, Lava Ocean Tours, Inc. holds one of the four available permits to use the state ramp.
The company's permit covers LavaOne, another vessel in operation. Permit holders, like Turpin, are not allowed to use vessels not covered by their permits on the state’s launching ramps.
"A request had been made to switch the vessel," Ed Underwood of the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation told the state land board. "So you're allowed to take a vessel off of the permit and switch it with another, but you can only run one vessel at a time."
According to Underwood, the violation occurred when both boats were used to conduct tours on the same days.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources declined to fine the two vessel captains for violating the same rule.
"We do believe that a captain who goes out without having a permit in our harbors i knowingly engaging in commercial activities and should be charged separately and in addition to the owner," Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff told the board.
Turpin's attorney, Kris LaGuire, disagreed.
"I read the statute as saying for each violation, even if it's your first violation, the fine is $5,000," said LaGuire. "It says nothing about anyone who operates the boat or a crew member of what have you, you can nail all of them for $5,000."
Those fines could have ranged anywhere between $5,000 and $35,000.
Turpin later told Hawaii News Now that he accepts the fines, and went before the board to clarify the permit regulations. He also said the DLNR needs to crack down more on tour boat operators who are operating illegally without permits.