SANTA MONICA—On March 10, the United States Attorney’s Office announced that federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint that charges a Santa Monica sushi eatery and one of its chefs with illegally selling the meat of protected Sei whales.
The sale of all whale meat is prohibited in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Sei whales are listed as endangered, according to the United States Attorney’s Web site.
The criminal complaint charges Typhoon Restaurant—the owner of The Hump restaurant at the Santa Monica Airport—and 45-year-old chef Kiyoshiro Yasamoto, with the illegal sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose.
“Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species,” United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. states in a press release. “Federal law has a variety of provisions, including criminal statutes, intended to protect this planet’s threatened natural resources. People should be aware that we will use these criminal statutes where appropriate to protect endangered species, including to ensure that they do not end up part of a meal.”
The criminal complaint and a search warrant executed at the restaurant indicate that The Hump sold whale sushi to customers three times since October. Scientists examined the meat sold as “whale” on two of the occasions, testing the DNA of the meat and determining it to be Sei whale. Receipts given to customers at the restaurant also indicated that they had purchased whale.
It is illegal to sell whale meat in the United States, and that Sei whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and are listed as endangered in Endangered Species Act of 1973.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement had conducted the investigation on the case. NOAA investigators had been assisted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish & Game, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Martina Sagapolu, Acting Special Agent in Charge for the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, Southwest Division, states, “Making illicit products like whale meat available on the market only encourages the illegal hunting of marine mammals while there is a market for illegal products and delicacies, we are dedicated to finding and prosecuting those who would exploit protected resources that are under threat.”
Typhoon Restaurant and Yamamoto are charged with illegally selling a marine mammal product. The charge is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum statutory penalty of one year in federal prison and a maximum fine of $100,000 for an individual and $200,000 for an organization.
Yamamoto and representatives of The Hump are to make initial court appearances in United States Court in the near future. The Hump investigation began after members of the public reported information to NOAA.
Anyone with information about the illegal sale of marine mammals is urged to contact the NOAA Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.