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Starkist canned tuna, one of the US market largest tuna firms. (Photo: Starkist)

Starkist executive charged with price fixing and conspiracy

  (UNITED STATES, 6/6/2017)

A former tuna Starkist executive has been charged with conspiring with officials from other tuna companies to fix the price of canned seafood from 2011 to 2013, according to a court filing.

Stakist managers detailed in a statement that the entrepreneur, Stephen Hodge, had worked for the firm but left in December 2013 and the company has cooperated with the investigation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) informed.

The canned tuna market in the United States has long been dominated by three companies: Thai Union's Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist.

In December 2015, the Justice Department stopped Thai Union Group from buying Bumble Bee, which agreed in May to plead guilty to one count of fixing the prices of canned tuna and to pay a criminal fine of USD 25 million. Two of its executives agreed to plead guilty to price-fixing in December.

The DOJ said the company also is cooperating with the antitrust investigation.

New details of exactly how the country’s three largest tuna companies allegedly spent years sharing information and collaborating are included in a pile of amended complaints submitted last month in federal court by numerous grocers, restaurants and suppliers.

The latest court documents include details such as Walmart and Ohio-based grocer Kroger charging that executives “used misleading subject lines on emails to affirmatively conceal the conspiratorial nature of their communications from those not involved in the conspiracy,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported.

Court documents reveal that tuna represents about 73 per cent of the market and generates about USD 1.7 billion in annual sales.

New York-based Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative, which had filed the initial suit against the three companies in August 2015 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, claims in new filings, that the three accused firms agreed on everything from decreasing the size of cans and pouches, to agreeing on collusive net or list prices for packaged seafood and to limiting promotions.

Olean also said the companies agreed not to sell branded canned tuna with labels indicating the fish had been harvested using fish aggregating devices (FADs).

“Defendants saw FAD-free tuna as a threat to their selling margins. However, if any one defendant put out such a product, the others would have to follow or risk losing sales,” stated another lawsuit filed by a group of companies including Giant Eagle, Kmart, and Family Dollar.

Related articles:

- Walmart presents further tuna brand price fixing allegations
- Bumble Bee to plead guilty to conspiracy role
- Bumble Bee senior executive pleads guilty for tuna price conspiracy


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