National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officials swarmed over the set of the surf movie "Of Men and Mavericks" last week in a helicopter and ship, reportedly handing out three tickets and threatening more, according to the surfing website, Surfline.com.
The site reported that on Thursday a NOAA officer got on a Half Moon Bay harbor loudspeaker and threatened the PWC riders who were leaving the harbor to work the big waves and help rescue actors, if needed, on the surf movie set.
A few weeks ago star Gerard Butler had to be pulled from the waves by a PWC (also called jet skis) after he was severely held down by a wave. He was hospitalized afterwards.
The NOAA official told the lifeguards over the public address system that they would be ticketed unless they moored onto a bigger boat or stayed in the channel. The PWC riders, ignored the warnings and rode out to the big waves offshore, where the filming was. Three of them got tickets when they returned.
The tickets start at $500 and can go up over $100,000 if the person who gets it chooses to fight it. NOAA is charged with protecting the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of 13 natural areas set aside in 1992.
PWCs are banned in the Bay except for certain areas, because they allegedly are a threat to wildlife. Big-wave surfers say the small speedy craft are crucial to save their lives and claim they are the only way to get them speedily out of the far off shore waters when they are injured.
Boats with the same engines as PWCs are allowed anywhere, but surfers say the smaller craft are more maneuverable in troublesome surf.
Friday, NOAA was back, with a Fish and Game boat and a helicopter, taking down PWC serial numbers.
"They probably spent about $300,000 of our tax dollars to get a few skis at Mav's," stuntman Mark Healey told Surfline. You can see pictures of the NOAA enforcement here, photo 16.
Last year NOAA fined two Santa Cruz PWC riders who used their craft off Moss Landing while they practiced for Mavericks on the big waves there. The pair, Scott Jarrett and Jeff Martin, chose to fight the ticket, claiming that NOAA's maps of the restricted area were wrongly drawn.
The surfers said the area allowable for jet skis is actually in an area where protected mammals go to get away from the big waves and the mapped-out path doesn't lead to the waves.
As a result of their choosing to fight the fine, the agency, which judges its own cases, raised their ticket from $500 to $2,500.
Last week NOAA was behind the investigation of marine biologist Nancy Black, who was indicted for allegedly feeding whales in 2005 and tampering with a videotape used as evidence and lying about it. If convicted, she faces 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Black formerly worked for the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, a part of NOAA. She was also a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, which help makes policy for protecting the refuge to NOAA.
Black's attorney, Lawrence Biegel, said the researcher who ran whale excursions from Monterey, had picked up a piece of blubber already floating in the ocean, tied a rope to it to keep it close to the boat, and filmed whales eating it.
"She was never hiding what she did or how she did it. In fact, she was acting with the knowledge of other marine mammal scientists, some of whom work for agencies of the federal government," he said. Biegel said Black had a permit granted by the federal government to conduct the research," Biegel told the Huffington Post.
Biegel said any editing done to the films was standard, since they were routinely given to passengers on the boats from the company Black is a partner in.
NOAA has been under fire on the East Coast from journalists and legislators. An investigation by Dan Rather showed the government agency had stockpiled a $100 million fund from assets seized from fishermen. Rather produced documents from the Freedom of Information Act showing NOAA enforcement officials used the money for cars, yachts and even a trip to Asia with one of the judges who pronounced sentences and seized assets from the alleged violators.
Rather's show called "Something Fishy,'' documented a federal agency run amok.
Despite repeated requests, Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel) whose 17th District includes the Monterey Bay Sanctuary, has declined to comment on the investigation of NOAA or its alleged actions on either coast.