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Endangered whale sushi: Santa Monica restaurant and 2 chefs indicted on federal charges

Endangered Sei Whale
Endangered Sei Whale Screenshot via NOAA/FWS

A Santa Monica restaurant and two sushi chefs have been indicted by a federal grand jury for selling endangered whale meat.

A federal grand jury has returned a nine-count indictment that charges a now-shuttered Santa Monica sushi restaurant and two men who worked there as chefs with selling meat from Sei whales, which are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Read the full 13-page whale sushi indictment below.

The indictment accuses the now-closed restaurant "The Hump" and sushi chefs Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda of "conspiring to import and sell whale meat, specifically meat from Sei whales, which are listed as an endangered species," according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release issued Friday.

The environmental crime investigation into the restaurant began after members of the general public brought information to NOAA. 

"Fatty tune"

Yamamoto and Ueda allegedly ordered the whale meat from a Japanese national named Ginichi Ohira. According to the indictment, Ohira — who previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally selling a marine mammal product — delivered whale meat to The Hump from 2007 to 2010 using invoices that described the product as "fatty tuna."

Whale meat

It is illegal to sell whale meat of any kind in the United States — endangered Sei whales are protected under both the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Informants

  • The Hump sold whale sushi to informants posing as customers on three specific occasions in the fall of 2009 and in early 2010.
  • Receipts given to the informants indicated that they had purchased "whale," according to an affidavit previously filed.
  • The meat sold as "whale" on two of the occasions was examined by scientists, who tested the DNA of the meat and determined it was Sei whale.

Other charges

Assistant U.S Attorney Dennis Mitchell talked to KPCC about what else is included in the indictment.

"It charges various offenses including conspiracy, obstructing official proceeding, false statement, smuggling, and violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act."

If convicted

  • Yamamoto would face a statutory maximum penalty of 67 years in federal prison.
  • Ueda would face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years.
  • Typhoon Restaurant, Inc. would face fines totaling $1.2 million.

Next steps

According to the DOJ, Yamamoto, Ueda and restaurant representatives will be summoned to appear for arraignments in United States District Court "in the coming weeks."

Investigation team

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  • California Department of Fish & Game
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection

NOAA Law Enforcement has a hotline for anyone with information about the illegal sale of marine mammals: (800) 853-1964.

Document: Full indictment

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