DOWNTOWN L.A. — A Gardena seafood dealer who imported endangered whale meat from Tokyo and sold it to Santa Monica eatery The Hump and other sushi restaurants in the Southland will plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, according to reports.
Ginichi Y. Ohira, 50, was charged in Los Angeles federal court with knowingly selling a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose, in violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Specifically, Ohira sold protected sei whale meat to The Hump at the Santa Monica Airport, which closed its doors last year after federal prosecutors charged the owner and a chef with sales of the federally-protected mammal, according to court documents obtained by City News Service.
Ohira began importing whale meat from Japan about 10 years ago. Among his customers was a sushi chef at The Hump.
The meat was discovered in visits to the restaurant by undercover agents working with environmental advocates behind the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” who conducted their own surveillance operation in which they used video cameras and tiny microphones to document the illegal activity.
The advocates pocketed pieces of meat and placed them in a plastic bag for genetic testing, which later showed the meat was sei whale, which are found worldwide and are endangered but are sometimes hunted in the North Pacific under a controversial Japanese scientific program.
Charges against the restaurant and chef were dismissed in 2010 after the eatery admitted serving up sei, pledged to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation or endangered species groups and shut down entirely.
The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison, one year under supervised release, and a fine of $100,000, prosecutors said.
A date for Ohira’s guilty plea is expected to be set Monday, according to reports.