Low prices due to poor quality, fish importer says

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A major Japanese trading company paid less to a small processor who lasted one season in Bristol Bay because the frozen sockeye didn't meet standards, an executive testified Wednesday, not because the trading company wanted to drive the processor out of business and limit competition.

The quality of the frozen sockeye produced by the Baypack processor Red Sea was not as expected,'' said Katsunori Mori, a manager with Okaya & Co. He cited physical plant problems and a lack of processing experience.

Mori earlier denied that he ever put pressure on a processor to lower prices to fishermen. I don't think it's an efficient way to do business,'' he said.

Mori's comments came in response to questions from lawyers for 4,500 Bristol Bay permit holders in a class action lawsuit being tried in Anchorage. The suit accuses several processors and Japanese importers of conspiring from 1989 to 1995 to keep prices paid to fishermen down.

A glut of salmon and world economic conditions, not collusion, prompted the lower prices, the processors and importers have argued.

Okaya and Nichirei Corp., both importer defendants in the case, sent representatives aboard the Red Sea to monitor processing.

Baypack investor Rick Magill of Sitka testified earlier that Nelbro/British Columbia Packers had agreed to provide technical support and quality control management for the new venture, and to sell Baypack's frozen sockeye for a percentage of the sale price.

The agreement called for BC Packers to offer the fish only to Okaya, which would, in turn, sell the fish to Nichirei.

I just assumed they would try to get the same price for our frozen salmon as theirs,'' said Magill. We ended up with a lot of high-quality fish graded as low-quality fish.''

Magill also testified he was told that other processors, including defendants in the case, were angry because he was paying higher prices to fishermen.

Nelbro/BC Packers settled out of court. Okaya and Nichirei remain among the defendants in the case.

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

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