Documents show pressure applied to lower prices

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Japanese importer pressured processors of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to sharply lower prices paid to fishers in 1991, according to documents presented Tuesday in a price-fixing suit.

The memorandum from Okaya & Co., Ltd. to Wards Cove Packing Co. of Seattle said Bristol Bay sockeye prices ''may have to be reduced down drastically.''

Okaya and Wards Cove are two of the defendants named in a $1 billion class action lawsuit being waged in Superior Court on behalf of some 4,500 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon permit holders.

The suit alleges that major Japanese importers and Seattle-based processors colluded to lower prices to Bristol Bay fishers.

The defense blames an oversupply of fish and a slowdown in the world economy for lower prices paid to fishers.

The Okaya memo to Wards Cove encourages cooperation between packers and importers as ''indispensable for our survival in the new era of big salmon supply.''

Okaya officials urged that Wards Cove keep prices paid to fishers at a lower level to keep down the price for which the processor would sell to Japanese importers.

The memo was written on Dec. 4, 1990, while Wards Cove officials were in Tokyo to meet with a number of importers.

Plaintiffs attorney Stephen Susman also introduced into evidence a confidential memo from another Japanese importer calling for lower prices to fishers in the 1991 season.

The Mitsui Corp. memo urges that prices to fishers from the 1991 Bristol Bay sockeye season should be 50 cents a pound, ''in order to protect packer's profit.'' Mitsui settled the case out of court.

Fishers were offered 50 cents a pound at the start of the 1991 season and went on strike from mid-June to July 3, when all the processors agreed to pay 70 cents a pound and most harvesters began fishing.

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