Knapp did not rule out sockeye market manipulation

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A University of Alaska economist who testified for processors in the Bristol Bay price-fixing suit has talked about possible manipulation of prices by those processors in the past, a Superior Court jury was told Thursday.

Letters and reports introduced during cross-examination of Gunnar Knapp included a 1993 letter to Bristol Bay fisherman Nick Kouris, which said, ''I've never said that processors don't manipulate prices.''

Knapp also wrote, in the university's 1993 Salmon Market Information Service bulletin, that he considered market manipulation and competition from farmed fish as the reasons fishermen were getting less.

The bulletin said growth of the farmed fish industry and/or ''large and powerful Japanese companies ...manipulating markets and driving prices down,'' or both, could be culprits.

On Thursday, Knapp spent his third day on the stand. He's the final defense witness in the price-fixing case by 4,500 Bristol Bay fishermen against processors and importers. Fishermen accuse processors and importers of conspiring to lower prices to fishermen.

The lawsuit came after a 1995 investigative report by the state attorney general's office, which said price fixing could not be ruled out.

The fishermen are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

In 1992 correspondence to investigators in the attorney general's office, Knapp said he had become more receptive to the possibility of collusion.

''It's important to take the allegations seriously and to investigate them thoroughly,'' he wrote then.

Still, as an expert witness, Knapp said Thursday he was ''not here to testify on whether there were attempts at a conspiracy or whether a conspiracy happened.'' His research work has focused on understanding the relationship of fish prices on different levels, he said.

When the lawsuit was filed in July 1995, Knapp initially said he would remain neutral, even after being approached to work with the defense.

The trial began Feb. 3. Superior Court Judge Peter A. Michalski has ordered that the case go to the jury May 27.

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