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LA Fish Dealer To Plead Guilty For Importing Whale Meat From Japan

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(credit: Paul Chesley / Getty Images)

(credit: Paul Chesley / Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A Gardena seafood dealer who sold endangered whale meat from Tokyo to Southland sushi restaurants will plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, according to court documents.

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 in Santa Monica, which closed its doors last year after federal prosecutors charged the owner and chef with sales of the federally protected mammal, according to court documents.

Ohira began importing whale meat from Japan about 10 years ago. Among his customers was a sushi chef at The Hump, according to the plea agreement.

KNX 1070’s Vitas Syfronikas reports meat was discovered in visits to the restaurant by undercover agents and environmental advocates who pocketed the sushi for testing.

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 first word of the unusual offering at The Hump came 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.

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.

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 today.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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