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The Journal Gazette

  • Customers walk past a bluefin tuna head in front of a seafood restaurant at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Major retailers say popular tuna brands conspired to keep prices high. (Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 1:00 am

Lawsuits allege tuna price fixing

Retailers say seafood dealers conspired in canned tuna market

MARTHA MENDOZA | Associated Press

BANGKOK – Executives of the most popular tuna brands in the U.S. – Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist – conspired regularly to keep prices high for consumers with a taste for one of America's favorite sandwich ingredients, according to criminal and civil court records updated this week.

A typical can of tuna today costs about $1.50, and the U.S. Department of Justice says that price might be the result of price fixing by Thai, South Korean and U.S. seafood dealers. Major retailers are suing, alleging they've been ripped off.

The U.S. government began investigating criminal price fixing between the three companies more than two years ago. Together, the companies supply about 80 percent of the $1.7 billion of canned tuna sold annually in the United States, according to the court records.

Following up, Wal-Mart and other top retailers filed civil lawsuits.

Those cases were updated this week with an appendix first reported by Undercurrent News that singles out dozens of tuna executives, roping in some of the wealthiest businessmen in Thailand, where Chicken of the Sea's parent company, Thai Union, is based.

“Thai Union does not comment on ongoing legal matters,” the company said in a statement. The other firms did not respond immediately for requests for comment.

The litigation describes regular phone calls and meetings where “executives agreed that all three companies would collective raise prices.” They also agreed to “limit promotions and packaged tuna that undercut their published pricing,” according to court records.

Thai Union's president and CEO Thiraphong Chansiri, his father Kraisorn Chansiri and dozens of other Thai and American executives are now identified specifically in the ongoing case. Thai Union owns Chicken of the Sea, Red Lobster and U.S. Pet Nutrition, among other companies.

In-Gu Park, acting president of South Korea-based Dongwon Enterprise, which owns StarKist, and Chris Lischewski, president and CEO of San Diego-based BumbleBee also were named in the court records.