Firm admits asking processors to cut prices to fishermen

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A major Japanese trading firm urged two processors to cut prices to Bristol Bay salmon fishermen in the 1991 season in order to wipe out a buyer's market, a company executive testified Thursday.

A memo presented by his company to Wards Cove Packing Co. and British Columbia Packers in separate meetings in December 1990 proposed cooperation among packers and importers, including fish price reductions, said Seiya Niimi, a manager for Okaya & Co.

Specific references to lowering prices to fishermen and for cooperation between processors and importers were added by his supervisor in Okaya's foods department shortly before the meeting, Niimi said.

Niimi's testimony came in response to questions from Stephan Susman, a lawyer for 4,500 Bristol Bay permit holders who say processors and importers conspired to lower prices paid to fishermen.

The memo said it was high time for both packers and importers to cooperate with each other to find a way to establish a kind of all year round pricing for all year round sales for mutual profit.''

Okaya officials expressed concern that a large supply of fish, including farmed salmon, could produce a buyer's market

The only possible way to overcome such difficulty and wipe out the 'buyer's market' scary would be the mutual cooperation among the packers and the importers,'' the memo reads. In the extreme, Bristol Bay sockeye price may have to be reduced down drastically.''

We are assure that Wards Cove Packing, as a leader of this industry, can establish reasonable FOB prices (prices paid to the processors by trading companies) by enforcing to control the ground prices,'' the memo says.

There was no actual discussion at the meeting with Wards Cove about prices to be paid to fishermen, Niimi testified.

The trial began Feb. 3 and is expected to continue through May. The fishermen are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

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