Something fishy was going on at Odeum in Morgan Hill, Santa Clara County officials suspected.
The upscale restaurant — a big fish in the Morgan Hill restaurant scene, helmed and owned by a chef with a Michelin star — was serving tilapia in place of the petrale sole listed on the menu for a period of more than a year, an investigation by the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office alleged. A spokesperson for Odeum declined to comment.
Now, according to a civil judgment announced Wednesday, the restaurant must pay $120,000 — $30,000 in restitution and $90,000 in civil penalties — and offer a $30 gift card to any customer who ordered sole at Odeum between October 2014 and March 2016 and files a claims form by May 31, the Santa Clara district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.
Gift cards count toward the $30,000 of restitution money that must be paid, and leftover restitution money will go to the Consumer Protection Division of the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health, according to the district attorney’s office.
Following up on a complaint, the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office and the Department of Environmental Health launched their investigation in early 2016 and learned of the alleged deception, officials said.
Fish fraud is a common problem — a report released by the conservation group Oceana in September estimated that 1 in 5 seafood samples worldwide is mislabeled.
Asian catfish, farmed tilapia, and farmed salmon are often presented as wild-caught, higher-value fish, Oceana researchers found.
“Not only do these swaps cheat consumers, but many aquaculture facilities damage surrounding ecosystems, and use chemicals and antibiotics that can harm consumer health,” the report said.
In Santa Clara County, officials hope the steep fines might make would-be seafood fraudsters think twice.
“I definitely hope it will deter other restaurants and wholesalers from trying to swap out products and serve things that are not what they say they are,” said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Deng.