Avery said she became suspicious when two customers at her market said they didn't think that the fish that Tsunoda was selling as sole came from California waters. She called the state Department of Fish and Game, which sent Josh Handler, a warden, to visit the market on May 11.
Tsunoda had shown Avery landing receipts, forms that commercial fishing boats must file with the DFG, showing that the fish she was selling that day had been caught by the Anjin II, a 31-foot vessel owned by her brother, Dennis. But she admitted to Handler that she had bought all of the fish on her truck at a wholesale market in downtown Los Angeles, he said.
"She was actually showing me fake landing receipts," said Avery.
She also admitted that the fish she was selling as California sole was actually Vietnamese basa, he said. He told her that it was against the state's general business code to misrepresent a product in this way, and she agreed to stop doing so, he added.
The next day, Avery sent Tsunoda a letter telling her that she was suspended from the Santa Monica markets, where she had sold on Wednesdays and Saturdays for more than a decade. She gave Tsunoda 15 days, until Thursday, to file an appeal, but as of Wednesday Tsunoda had not done so.
"I don't want to dispute it," said Tsunoda of the sanction, when reached Wednesday by phone. "Laura has been very fair and reasonable with me, and I have no comment as far as anything that happened."
Almost all of the fish vendors at certified farmers markets buy their product from wholesalers, as dwindling fishing stocks and quotas have made it virtually impossible for anyone to offer a consistent supply and wide variety of fresh, local fish that they have caught themselves. Selling purchased fish in the non-certified section at farmers markets is permitted by state and county farmers market regulations; unlike most agricultural commodities, whose production by a given farmer can be estimated by inspectors, wild-caught fish is "non-certifiable," because no one can estimate the fish a boat might catch.
But the Santa Monica market tries to adhere to a higher standard, stating in its rules that it does not allow "any fish or shellfish purchased at a commercial/wholesale fish market."
Tsunoda has also been selling at the Venice and Thousand Oaks farmers markets, and the managers of these markets said that they would continue to allow her to do so, as long as she correctly identified her fish.
Customers at the Santa Monica markets have reacted to the news of Tsunoda's expulsion with a mixture of sadness and indignation. "Kathy is a humble, hardworking person," said cookbook author Amelia Saltsman, adding that she has bought Tsunoda's sole in the past and found it delicious. "I would probably not have bought it if I knew it was farmed in Vietnam. It's sad that she's out of the Santa Monica market but even more so that she wasn't honest with her customers."