Sushi Chefs, Restaurant Charged With Selling Endangered Whale Meat

Sushi chefs, one from Culver City who worked at The Hump Restaurant at Santa Monica Airport, have been charged by a federal grand jury. The restaurant group could face a $1.2 million fine.

A now-closed Santa Monica restaurant and two sushi chefs who worked there were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of smuggling and selling the meat of a protected whale species.

The parent company of The Hump Sushi Bar & Restaurant, which closed at Santa Monica Airport in 2010, could be fined $1.2 million.

Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 48, of Culver City, Susumu Ueda, 39, of Lawndale, and Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., are accused of illegally importing and selling the meat of sei whales.

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

The company and Yamamoto were initially charged in 2010, but the counts were soon dismissed. However, further investigation resulted in new charges, prosecutors said.

The first word of the unusual offering at The Hump came in 2010 from the Oscar-winning team behind the documentary "The Cove."

The filmmakers tipped off federal officials that the restaurant was serving sushi identified as sei whale. The meat was discovered in visits to the restaurant by undercover agents and environmental advocates who pocketed the sushi for testing.

Yamamoto is charged with concealing the purchase of whale meat and the restaurant's source, and instructing other sushi chefs at The Hump to do the same. Ueda is charged with lying to a federal agent about the source of the whale meat. If convicted, Yamamoto could face a maximum sentence of 67 years in federal prison; Ueda could face a maximum of 10 years.

Ueda's attorney, James Spertus, said his client was "behind a counter making sushi" and would have had "no idea where the meat came from."

"If you buy some oranges from the store, you do know where they came from," Spertus said. "Ralphs knows—you do not."

According to the indictment, the whale meat was ordered through a seafood dealer named Ginichi Ohira.

In 2010, Ohira pleaded guilty to knowingly violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. According to the indictment, "Ohira would deliver it to [The Hump], as well as an invoice that would incorrectly describe the whale meat as 'Tokusen Ootot (AK),' 'Gokujiyo Ootora (BK),' or 'Gokujiyo Ootoro (OM,' in order to conceal the importation and sale of the whale meat."

The Hump closed after the makers of the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove informed federal officials about Ohira's alleged actions.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an associate producer of the film had two activists order the $600 "chef's choice" meal at the restaurant. Informants ordered the whale meat on three occasions between the fall of 2009 and early 2010, according to the indictment. The informants turned over the meat to scientists, who tested it and confirmed it to be sei whale.

Receipts from the informants' meals also identified their orders contained whale. In March 2010, environmentalists protested in front of the restaurant, demanding its closure.

Yamamoto is currently listed as the executive chef and co-owner of Yamakase, an exclusive, invitation-only Japanese restaurant in the Palms neighborhood.

Arraignment for Yamamoto, Ueda and representatives of the restaurant will be scheduled for the upcoming weeks.

— Patch editor Jenna Chandler and City News Service contributed to this report.

Diane February 02, 2013 at 05:29 AM
So, it is okay for people to break the law, as long as it isn't illegal in another country?
Diane February 02, 2013 at 05:51 AM
So many people in this country already think the rules don't apply to them, the rules just apply to everyone else. This self-centered, selfish, self-involved and self-righteous thinking is destroying our way of life. And I am not a tree-hugger, I am not even a liberal. I am a patriot in the true sense of the word, just like those in my family who have served this country with their lives, their bodies, their minds and their souls for generations.
Dan Charney February 02, 2013 at 05:54 AM
I have heard of the food chain - oddly- but I've also heard a better idea- the humane food train- taking a life for yourself? make it important to you and do it with regard for it's life- only fair
Rich Pinot February 02, 2013 at 06:39 AM
I ate at Yamakase and he didn't serve any whale meat. The food is awesome. If he broke the law, he should pay but 67 years is too extreme. Murderers get less than that.
Chuck Mason February 02, 2013 at 07:40 AM
Hmmmmm. Tastes like chicken? How about whale-flavored soy product? Monsanto? --- time to come save the whales.
be February 02, 2013 at 07:57 AM
How do you know what effects the past had on these chefs? How can you say with certainty that nothing stops them? They're chefs, and sushi is an art? Maybe the previous learning experience in 2010 has changed their way of thinking? A new restaurant doesn't mean previous actions continue. Sushi is an art; the hump was an authentic experience and the continuation of a tradition. Maybe some aspects should be examined, but you don't know the men behind the allegations, so to assume its about money and ego is exactly that; an assumption. Pull your head out of your asses, the punishment certainly doesn't fit the crime.
Skimbo February 02, 2013 at 10:15 AM
Sounds like Tom needs more than a hug.
Mary McGrath February 02, 2013 at 05:24 PM
I have reviewed Typhoon in recent years, and the food here is very interesting, if you're fascinated by bugs and grubs. http://www.examiner.com/article/typhoon-pan-asian-dining-near-culver-city Sad to hear about this whale of a tale....not cool at all.
Tom February 02, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Which Tom ? ;)
Dan Charney February 02, 2013 at 10:46 PM
it's not about tree hugging ( what a freaking stupid term that has always been )- it's not about being liberal ( plenty of those served in wars too by the way )- it's about the law and it's about humanity and the entire planet- there are almost no big predator fish left= - they are just about gone- not right - things mean more in life than 'designer" everything and the ugly attitudes that go with it- just heard they are serving rattlesnake sandwiches somewhere in SM- why don't you guys that want to kill exotics go for that-
Dan Charney February 02, 2013 at 10:46 PM
it's not about tree hugging ( what a freaking stupid term that has always been )- it's not about being liberal ( plenty of those served in wars too by the way )- it's about the law and it's about humanity and the entire planet- there are almost no big predator fish left= - they are just about gone- not right - things mean more in life than 'designer" everything and the ugly attitudes that go with it- just heard they are serving rattlesnake sandwiches somewhere in SM- why don't you guys that want to kill exotics go for that-
be February 03, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Or to limit the amount of seafood being wasted on those cho-baka's who don't appreciate the art of the meal and would prefer to cover the delicate fish in mayonaise and jabaneros. Practically every comment on this page is an assumption; and most of you seem to be pricks.
Sushi God February 03, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Hey Dan, are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Fruitarian maybe? You sound more like a donkey to me. Do you kill the cow and chicken you eat on your "humane food train"...because this is one vehicle i'd like to stay off. We Americans are completely deluded. We get perfect killed meat in shrink wrapped packages, and there's more than we could ever go to. No issues with buying in stores...if you want to remedy the problem, go after the source. Attacking a California sushi chef doesn't stop whaling in numerous other countries; the punishment clearly doesn't fit the crime...especially since this was already dropped in 2010. Dan, when you start killing the steak you eat, you can talk about regard for life, until then...your argument is erroneous and you remain a donkey.
Sushi God February 04, 2013 at 02:23 AM
Sushi god eats rattle snake; and no ones justifying the potential for harm worldwide by over fishing. We do need to respect the environment and its creatures, but thats not the point at hand. The issue here is does the punishment fit the crime. If any of you self righteous pricks really want to understand the art; watch 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi'. A true Shokunin, like the masters at the hump, are the first to admit we're over fishing, not letting our tuna mature, and its getting harder and harder to find good quality. Too many people, equals too much eating. No ones barking up McDonalds tree, but consider the amount of 'Filet O' Fish' on the market. Again, not justifying using endangered marine mammals for cosumption, but why does the chef get a potential 67 years, and the man supplying it...potential 1 year? Hmm. We don't have round teeth, we're carnivores by nature; moderation is really the name of the game, and we American's don't understand the concept. Pure and simple. Where is the rattle snake sandwich spot, i want one before they close that shit down too.
Tom Jackson February 04, 2013 at 05:02 AM
Well Dan it's like this. Go on you tube and watch the skit given by George Carlin about the planet. If you believe in God you would understand where God clearly has put man above animals. If you don't believe in God as many of this new generation then consider it part of the evolutionary process called life. Someday man will be gone and the process can start all over. The bottom line is who really cares about the whales when we have people living under freeway over passes and dying around the world from starvation. I for one don't care and won't loose one minute of sleep over it. I am interested in keeping a job so I can keep my own species alive. Hugging a tree is also not a priority of mine. YOU AND YOUR KIND would rather take a human life or waste one in a 65 year prison sentence then deal with the reality that eating a whale is no different then eating a cow chicken or any other animal for that matter. The only difference being that the save the whale movement got a law passed making whaling against the law and giving sentences greater then a guy that just plugged his old lady for doing the neighbor. GO FIGURE. So go down to Whole foods or Trader Joe's and pick up a roast on me and after filling you empty belly you can start your new save the cow movement.
Tom Jackson February 04, 2013 at 05:47 AM
DIANE, I am not sure how whale meat relates to being patriot. Does that mean our founding fathers were any less a patriot because they killed whales? That was a big industry in this country way back then. I don't think so. ALSO referring to your relatives giving their lives for their country I applaud them. You will notice I didn't applaud you because I suspect you haven't done your part. Saying your a Patriot because someone in you family served is a big assumption on your part as well. So what were we talking about again? Whale meat , that it. So let's give a fellow human 65 years for serving an endangered species of meat. Sounds a Bit extreme to me. Sounds like a possible Hollywood movie down the road like, I was on a Georgia chain gang. I watched that just the other night. We can call the movie " I served 65 years for serving whale meat" It's ok though to let a murderer out of prison after a couple years because he ate a twinky. Sounds reasonable to me. NOT!!!!!!!
Tom Jackson February 04, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Dan, For the record. I have been eating rattlesnake since I was 10 years old. That was the age MY grandfather taught me how to prepare my own food. Kill a rabbit and make rabbit stew, kill a rattle snake skin it and make a belt and pan fry what's left in a skillet with salt and pepper. Mmmm I am getting hungry. So one man's endangered species is another man's food. Please don't take offense at my comments. They just are product of self preservation. My grandfather said they ate anything that moved when they escaped the German concentration camp during WWII. That's the only way they survived until the Americans and Russians came to town. So my grandfather instilled in me a Little different view on the value of life. HUMANS ARE NUMBER ONE IN MY BOOK. Animals run distant second. Not to say that I wouldn't be upset if I had to eat my dog if my family was starving. Sorry!!!
Dan Charney February 04, 2013 at 10:34 PM
People are up in arms at McD's for everything- and the man who supplied it should get equal or more years- 67 years is a bit absurd- agree- I cannot agree and never will that humans- who are the only specie literally destroying the earth - can do as they wish - there are laws- live here- abide by them-and I feel sorry for your dog Tom Jackson- poor thing- find it another home- humans are not number one- in fact- we are way down by how unfairly and cruelly we conduct ourselves- so glad I was not raised like you
catman February 05, 2013 at 12:45 AM
How do you know the shrimps are in pain ? Unless you're a shrimp yourself or have away of communicating with them it would be impossible to be able to determine if they experience pain or not.
Dan Charney February 05, 2013 at 01:51 AM
i don't eat meat Sushi God and I only eat sustainable wild caught salmon and talapia - no veal, cow, lamb or pork for a very long time- so I can say what I want- you are a bully - no wonder you have no regard for the earths creatures- much like the entire world wide fishing industry- when you stop the markets- it has an effect- I see the world and life very differently than your arrogant insulting way- you greedy man
Dan Charney February 05, 2013 at 01:54 AM
I know some real fisherman- the stories of what really happens out there and for the various markets is cruel- illegal much less sad and without regard for this earth- like all of you are- as for shrimp feeling pain or any animal ? they all do - it's been measure by people with actual brains - called scientists- look it up - jesus - never realized SM had this many horrendous people in it - no wonder it's changing
Sushi God February 05, 2013 at 07:37 AM
So Dan Charney, then killing is ok in some instances but not others? Wild caught Salmon and Talapia can fuck right off because they're plentiful and sustainable? Why not cows then? They're more than plentiful. You see, what you don't realize is that i am indeed an animal lover; i just choose to eat them as well. While i completely agree with Tom (Jackson) on every count; i in fact would sooner become a vegetarian or dine on dirt than eat my own dog; but only because i love him and know him. Here's where the argument will get most convoluted; I do indeed value his life higher than most humans, and if forced to choose between eating a human i don't know, or my dog who i do, i'd choose cannibalism. I don't agree with eating whale, however my argument has always been that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. And to the half wit that points out about the pain shrimp certainly feel, it is proven that while shrimp do have a complete nervous system, their brains are too primative to indeed feel pain or emotion. Its simply an automatic response brought on to avoid predators. In fact, shrimp have the fastest nerve response on earth, at over 200 meters per second, but indeed this is not based on emotion, or fear, but rather, automatic fight or flight response. Further, i'm not really against eating anything (as you may have guessed already)...but humane killing is more the question.
Sushi God February 05, 2013 at 07:38 AM
[continued from previous post] Large farms often kill Pigs for pork with nail guns, and chickens have been de-feathered and de-beaked while still alive. It doesn't mean i'm not eating chicken anymore, it means i look to products like 'smart chicken' and free range meats to ensure the animal lives as well as possible before i eat it. To whichever brain dead lunatic compared shrimp to dogs (sorry, i can't keep track of all your moron names) it is indeed unfortunate that people used to consider dogs unintelligent, but you can't teach a shrimp to sit, roll over, play dead, etc. Pigs are known to be even smarter than dogs, yet if you ask me, i value bacon above gold. If i knew the pig personally, it would be a completely different story. Well done Charlotte.
Dan Charney February 05, 2013 at 09:38 AM
Humane killing is the only point - and you don't know squat about shrimp- somehow you dont' speak like an expert- just an angry man who needs some meds- enough of you - too long a sentence too- I said that earlier- that isn't the point- and I pity your dog- or anyone that has to put up with your rage and self- righteous indignation and abuse-
Tom Jackson February 06, 2013 at 05:49 AM
Ok guys. The fact is I wouldn't eat my dog. I would probably starve first. Even if I wanted to one of my 8 children would probably object. In addition to this he smells too much to even consider him dinning material.
Charles February 07, 2013 at 01:20 PM
I think the issue with whale and dolphins or porpoises is that like the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutangs) they clearly demonstrate sentient behavior. Which means that they are intelligent enough to demonstrate that they are functioning with higher brain function. Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees is fairly enlightening if you are interested [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Goodall] and if you want to understand the limits of a chimpanzee growing up in a human family please check out about the Lucy experiment [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_%28chimpanzee%29]. Gorillas communicating with sign language have been found to describe elaborate feelings and awareness and the Koko story is a humbling and fascinating story [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koko_%28gorilla%29]. The whole point is that whales and dolphins/porpoises all have as much or more mental faculties as the great apes. That we don't speak their language doesn't make them any less intelligent or aware. It is this intelligence, awareness, and sentient behavior that encourages us to not kill humans who do not speak our same language, have our same culture, or can communicate in a way discernible to whatever group has greater power. Ultimately this is why knowingly selling whale meat is such a travesty.
Dan Charney February 07, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Thank you Charles- I was beginning to think Santa Monica was loaded with idiots
Tom Jackson February 08, 2013 at 05:40 AM
It is and your one of them!!!!
Dan Charney February 08, 2013 at 12:02 PM
"oh what a comfort"
J A April 01, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Tom, you sound like a bigot, but a smart one at that. Utter disregard for life is repulsive. Please don't breed.


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