As any endeavoring sushiphile can attest, the only thing worse than eating a lukewarm, godawful sushi roll stuffed with prison-quality lobster is eating a god-awful "lobster roll" that doesn't even contain any actual lobster. It won't matter how delicately the vinegar is folded into the roll's uruchimai if said rice is enveloping some rank-ass imitation fish.
The Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit of the San Diego's Attorney's Office would agree. They just convicted eight local sushi restaurants for seafood fraud. OK, the crime is just a misdemeanor, but the prosecution sends a message: San Diego will not be putting up with faux sushi.
Under California law, the adulteration of food and false advertising or misbranding of food items are criminal violations. Investigators carried out a kickass sting in which they purchased lobster rolls from various sushi restaurants and sent them to a lab for DNA testing. A follow-up by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the findings: No lobster in the rolls.
The eight sushi restaurants—Little Tokyo, Edamami Sushi & Roll, Wonderful Sushi, Kim, Sun Young, OB Sushi, Riki Sushi, Wonderful Sushi on University Avenue, and RB Sushi 2—ended up paying a total of $14,000 in fines and over $5,000 to reimburse the cost of the investigation.
According to local NBC News, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith stated, "The public should be able to count on truthful advertising from anyone doing business in San Diego. Honest customer service is not only required by law, it is good business." She added that "Our office will continue to prosecute businesses that lie to their consumers."
Seafood fraud is not unusual in the least; Consumer Reports says that one-fifth of the fish they bought in a recent investigation was not the fish that was advertised. Typically, cheaper types of fish—like pollock or tilefish—are passed off as more expensive ones in cases of food fraud.
Although the owners of all eight restaurants pleaded guilty, NBC reports that the owner of Wonderful Sushi claimed his restaurant's involvement in the fraud was all just a big misunderstanding. He told them that he never meant to deceive customers and that he was using langostino, which has a "muddled definition in America." The owner went on to say that although he now understands that langostino is not considered lobster in the US, he insists it is understood as such in other places. Nevertheless, his attorney advised him to plead guilty to the charges, and he did so.
A fish by any other name? It's no lobster. But the people of San Diego, at least, can rest assured that their city is looking out for their sushi interests.