Defense opens case in sockeye salmon collusion trial

Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The president of Trident Seafoods testified Monday that no other processor or importer told him what price to pay harvesters in the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.

Chuck Bundrant was the first person to testify for the defense in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of some 4,500 fishermen.

Fishermen contend that processors and Japanese importers conspired to fix prices in the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery from 1989 to 1995. Fishermen are seeking more than $1 billion.

The trial began Feb. 3 and is expected to last three months.

Bundrant said no one told him how much to pay fishermen for raw fish. He denied colluding with other processors to control prices.

''Trident fishermen are not dependent on us. We are dependent on them,'' Bundrant told jurors.

''Our goal is to make all Trident fishermen feel that we have made their business more profitable and efficient,'' he said, reading from Trident's mission statement.

Processors say world market conditions, not a conspiracy, lowered prices to fishermen.

In some years, particularly 1989, efforts to negotiate a better price for Bristol Bay sockeye in Japan cost Trident millions of dollars in losses, Bundrant said.

''Their job is to buy cheap,'' Bundrant said of importers. ''My job is to sell as high as I can. It's not an easy chore.''

Bristol Bay sockeye from 1989 through 1995 amounted to only about 15 percent of Trident's processed seafood, Bundrant said.

Answering questions from Stephan Susman, an attorney for the fishermen, Bundrant acknowledged that his company and other processors verified prices with each other between 1989 and 1995. He did not recall his own participation, he said.

''Price verification was common,'' he said. ''I just don't recall any particular incident.''

Witnesses for fishermen contend price information was common knowledge and that there was no apparent need for processor executives to be conferring with each other.

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