Kayakers paddle their vessels in Kealakekua Bay in October. The bay has been closed to kayakers since January. (West Hawaii Today file photo/Laura Shimabuku)
Kayakers paddle out to the Captain Cook Monument in Kelakekua Bay in October. The bay has been closed to kayakers since January. (West Hawaii Today file photo/Laura Shimabuku)
More than a month ago, Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila said kayak companies could be back in business in the bay within a week.
On Friday, Aila offered the same time frame for getting those companies back to work, claiming paperwork, and adding more conditions for using Napoopoo Pier.
Iwa Kalua, owner of Aloha Kayak Co., confirmed that he had received permits last week, which he signed and had notarized before returning those documents to the state. Kalua said it’s been difficult to stay in business, but he’s holding on, hoping DLNR will reopen the pay to kayakers soon.
“We probably lost 75 to 80 percent of our business,” Kalua said. “Times are tough.”
Kalua’s company has permits to operate out of several other bays, but none is as protected as Kealakekua Bay, and the high winter surf makes operating in those bays more difficult.
Aloha Kayak Co. and the other kayak tour companies aren’t the only businesses suffering from the moratorium, Kalua said. He’s talked with coffee shop and restaurant owners who are seeing less business, too, because fewer people are driving to Kealakekua Bay. One tourist called him monthly, starting in November, to see if the bay would be reopened in time for his February trip. When it wasn’t, the tourist told Kalua he was considering booking a vacation to South America instead of Hawaii.
Kayaking companies may see another hit to their business — the DLNR has authorized nearly 100 permits for motorized boats to enter the bay. Kalua said those boats are less environmentally friendly than kayaks. He said he’s concerned tourists will head straight for tours on motorized boats and skip kayaks entirely.
“The number of drift-in (boats) is not a big deal,” Aila said, responding to kayak companies’ concerns.
“It does matter,” he said. “By issuing those, they’re bypassing our market and handing it over to the motorboats. They’re bypassing our shops altogether. They’re saturating the Kealakekua Bay market with motor boats.”
A message left for Adventures in Paradise owner Geoff Hand was not returned Friday. A Kona Boys employee declined to discuss the situation on the record.
Aila said the number of hikers down to the Captain Cook Monument at Kaawaloa has increased, mostly because kayaks have not been allowed in the bay. Managing those hikers and the trail is next on the department’s to-do list.
DLNR imposed the moratorium on certain bay activities effective Jan. 1. Aila said they wanted to give the bay a rest, as well take time to end illegal kayak rentals at the park.
Kealakekua Bay’s importance as a Hawaiian cultural site dates back several centuries, according to DLNR documents.