Back in 2007 two California sushi chefs were first accused of selling endangered whale meat from their Santa Monica restaurant; now the issue has been brought back to light and the two chefs may face serious punishment if convicted.
The chefs, Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda are believed to have sold whale meat while employed at a restaurant called the Hump, which closed down voluntarily in 2010. The whale meat in question comes from Sei whales, the third largest species of whale following Blue and Fin whales. Sei whales were aggressively hunted in the 19th and 20th centuries and the world population suffered, now estimated around 80,000.
Sei Whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the U.S. Department of Justice believes the whale meat was purchased from a Japanese official named Ginichi Ohira, who in turn purchased it from a supplier in Japan, where whales are legally hunted for ‘scientific’ reasons. The whale meat was then mislabeled in restaurant invoices as “fatty tuna” to keep attention away from the true origin of the meat. The Hump also did not print whale meat dishes on its regular menu, to avoid detection and keep concerned customers unaware that they served the endangered species.
The issue was buried for some time but came back to light when activists alerted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the group that manages the National Marine Fisheries Service. The two chefs could face prison time, with up to 67 years for Yamamoto and 10 years for Ueda. Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., the company that owned the Hump could face up to $1.2 million in fines.
When The Hump shut down in 2010, it claimed that it hoped to bring awareness to illegal whaling and the dramatic effect is has upon the oceanic ecosystem. According to its website, “Closing the restaurant is a self-imposed punishment on top of the fine that will be meted out by the court. The owner of The Hump also will be taking additional action to save the endangered species.”
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