WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A California sushi chef and the restaurant in which he worked have been charged with illegally serving meat from an endangered Sei whale, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 45, and the parent company of the popular restaurant The Hump in Santa Monica were charged late on Wednesday with violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act which makes it illegal to sell any kind of whale meat.
The case stemmed from informants who ordered whale meat at the restaurant in October 2009 and evolved into a sting operation by U.S. wildlife and customs officials who observed whale meat being served at the restaurant last week.
“Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.
According to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, two confidential informants last week ordered whale meat during a sting operation while wildlife and customs officers sat at the sushi bar observing.
The sushi chef went to a car in the parking lot and brought a package of meat back into the restaurant where he opened it at the sushi bar and sliced the meat to serve, according to the document.
After initially ignoring questions from a customer at the sushi bar about the meat, “a customer to the right of the (official) then asked the sushi chef about the meat product, and the sushi chef quietly said that it was ‘whale,’” the affidavit said.
The plate of whale meat was then delivered to the two informants’ table.
A lawyer for the restaurant and chef was not immediately available for comment.
The charge carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and fines of up to $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for organizations.
The case is USA v. Typhoon Restaurant dba The Hump Restaurant and Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, Central District of California.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Sandra Maler