Defense economist takes issue with processor

Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An economist testified Monday that the dramatic increase of farmed salmon imported to Japan posed serious price competition for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon from 1989 to 1995.

Economist Yuko Kusakabe, testifying for processors charged in the case, disagreed with comments given in a deposition for Icicle Seafoods, that the impact of farmed salmon didn't become a serious competitive factor until 1994 or 1995.

''One person's view in one company that farmed salmon did not offset the price of his product, does not talk about the overall Japanese salmon market,'' Kusakabe said.

Her comments, under cross examination in a class action lawsuit being waged in Superior Court, contradicted those of defendant Icicle Seafoods. Larry Hill, a senior executive vice president for Icicle, said in a deposition that the impact of farmed salmon probably didn't become a factor until 1994 or 1995.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of some 4,500 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon permit holders, alleges that major Japanese importers and Seattle-based processors conspired to lower prices paid to fishermen. Plaintiffs are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Kusakabe showed jurors photographs and videos of Japanese food markets where Alaskan sockeye salmon competed with many other species, including farmed salmon. Kusakabe said even though the photos and videos were taken in 2003 they reflect a similar situation in place during the period of the alleged conspiracy.

Kusakabe previously testified for the oil companies in two separate lawsuits stemming from spills in Glacier Bay and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Those lawsuits also were brought by fishermen.

The trial began Feb. 3 and is expected to run through May.

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