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February 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hawaii Shark Feeding Tour Controversy Leads to Dismissed Lawsuit and Arson

from the February, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's been quite a month for North Shore Shark Adventures in Oahu. Their good news is that a lawsuit against them was dropped, due to Federal "secret involvement" in the case. The bad news is that two of its dive boats caught on fire, and investigators believe both were due to arson.

As a "swim with the sharks" dive operator, North Shore hasn't gotten along well with the locals. Last year, the dive shop wanted to start sending boats to Maunalua Bay, but irate residents nixed that, saying their chumming the ocean to attract sharks and putting clients in cages to watch them eat was too close to where the locals swim and surf. State legislators tried to ban shark-feeding tour operations in the state, but Governor Linda Lingle vetoed it last July.

Three North Shore employees went to trial in January for charges of shark feeding within state waters (it turns into federal waters three miles from shore), a petty misdemeanor under state law, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. But they were spared when a state judge threw out the charges. The reason? Federal officials refused to submit a user's manual and related materials for a top-secret tracking device also used in terror and drug-trafficking cases.

David Hayakawa, attorney for one of the defendants, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the legal team sought the user's manual and other materials related to a "secret law enforcement GPS" that officers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used to track shark tour boats' location. The tool was at the center of the case because "It's the only thing that could prove that they were within the state's three-mile limit," said Hayakawa. But "law enforcement chose to use a device that they could not utilize as evidence in court." NOAA and the U.S. attorney's office violated the court order to turn over the documents, instead submitting a redacted copy, claiming that lives could be at risk if they had to disclose information about the device. Therefore, the judge threw out evidence tied to the GPS device, and granted the defendants a dismissal of the case.

That hasn't stopped the controversy. North Shore has suffered not one but two cases of arson to its boats in Haleiwa Harbor in less than a month. Around midnight on January 7, the Kailolo was destroyed by an intentionallyset fire that also damaged a nearby boat. Damage was estimated at $225,000. On January 24, the Kolohe was set ablaze, again near midnight. Firefighters extinguished the blaze within 10 minutes, but the fire damaged the bow and the cabin. No one was injured. Police haven't found any witnesses. Now North Shore is down to one boat, and owner Joe Pavsek says he'll be ready if someone tries to burn that one. "The fires have made me put 17 of my employees out of work."

Pavsek said he stopped chumming waters for the sharks months ago. Now his new marketing approach: If you don't catch a fish or see a shark, you don't pay.

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