A restaurant in California faces criminal charges after being accused of selling sushi made from whale meat, the sale of which is strictly banned in the United States.
The Hump restaurant, in Santa Monica, and its chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 45, are accused of “the illegal sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose,” over allegations they sold Sei whale meat.
Yamamoto faces up to a year in prison and the charges also carry a fine of up to 200,000 dollars for the restaurant and 100,000 for the chef.
“Sei whales are listed as an endangered species, and the sale of all whale meat is prohibited in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” said a statement from the local US Attorney’s Office.
“Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species,” said United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
“Federal law has a variety of provisions… 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,” he added.
Tip off from documentary crew
Prosecutors said a search warrant executed at the restaurant last week confirmed that The Hump had sold Sei whale meat on at least three occasions since last October.
The meat was identified as “whale” when it was sold, and receipts given to customers also indicated that they had eaten whale.
DNA tests done on samples of the meat from the restaurant confirmed it was Sei whale meat.
The New York Times reported that local authorities were tipped off about the restaurant by the film crew who made The Cove, a documentary exposing a dolphin cull in Japan, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary on Sunday.
The Times said Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, had mounted several sting operations against The Hump, seeking to gather evidence that it was illegally serving whale meat.
He reportedly equipped crew members posing as diners with mini-cameras and had them collect samples of the whale sushi that were then analyzed in a laboratory and determined to be from Sei whales.
The Hump reportedly charged US$600 for a dinner for two including a US$60 serving of whale meat.