New lawsuit accuses DMWR of condoning fishing in protected area
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US Secretary of Interior, American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) and its director, Taotasi Archie Soliai, along with unnamed DMWR individuals and unnamed fishermen, are named as defendants in a new lawsuit filed in the federal court in Honolulu by four Alega village residents, who have pending lawsuits against ASG — as well as current and former government officials, and the two local telecom companies.
Filed on May 11th, plaintiffs Steven Jay Pincus Hueter, Rosalia Tisa Faamuli, Chief Faamuli Pete Faamuli, and Michael S. Kirk allege illegal commercial fishing and failure of DMWR to take action against illegal commercial fishing — relating to the private Alega Marine Protected Area.
According to the plaintiffs, for years there has been illegal commercial fishing, or poaching of fish and marine species in the waters of the Endangered and Threatened Species Green and Hawksbill turtles habitat in the private Alega Marine Protected Area.
And in the years prior to the current DMWR director, there was close cooperation between the plaintiff caretakers of the Alega Marine Protected Area and DMWR. There is clear posted signage on the road along Alega Beach that no fishing is permitted in Alega, the complaint states.
However, now, during Taotasi’s term as director, DMWR’s enforcement officers were told to not stop commercial fishing in Alega waters, in Alega Bay and in the waters of the private Alega Marine Protected Area, and were told to not enforce a ban on commercial fishing in Alega waters, the plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit.
In the pre-dawn early morning hours of May 1st, the lawsuit states that a fishermen aboard a commercial fishing vessel was illegally free diving in the presence of the fishing vessel, and illegally catching and poaching fish approximately 100 fish, including an approximately 4-foot Morey eel, and female lobsters in the waters of Alega Bay, within the waters of the Alega Marine Protected Area.
The plaintiffs documented the alleged illegal fishing, with photos of the vessel, the vessel’s registration number and statements taken at the time.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs are suing the Secretary of Interior to compel her to act in her plenary authority over the territorial government, High Court of American Samoa and ASG agencies “to take action and coerce” the unnamed commercial fishermen defendants to stop commercial fishing in the Alega Marine Protected Area, and to coerce DMWR and unnamed individual DMWR defendants — including Taotasi — to stop commercial fishing in the Alega Marine Protected Area.
Additionally, plaintiffs are suing Taotasi, DMWR and associated unnamed DMWR defendants “to stop them from allowing commercial fishing in Alega Waters and in the waters of the private Alega Marine Protected Area, and in the waters of the habitat of the endangered and threatened species of Green and Hawksbill turtles of the private Alega Marine Protected Area, and for damages.”
Plaintiffs are seeking $100,000, in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
But the case is stalled in court, not moving forward, following a May 11th “deficiency order” by US Chief US District Court Judge, J. Michael Seabright giving plaintiffs 28-days to either pay the $402 filing fee or submit a completed and executed application to proceed in “forma pauperis” on the forms provided by the court.
According to the order, failure to timely file an in forma pauperis application or the statutory filing fee will result in “AUTOMATIC DISMISSAL of this action.”