Defense says there was no bogeyman in Bristol Bay

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The lawyer for a major processor in the Bristol Bay price-fixing lawsuit took a final shot at conspiracy charges Thursday, saying: ''There was no bogeyman in Bristol Bay.

''There was no conspiracy, Trident Seafoods attorney Jeff Feldman told jurors in closing arguments. ''Just the market.''

According to Feldman, much of what attorneys for the 4,500 Bristol Bay fishermen describe as conspiracy was actually evidence of a competitive market.

The class-action lawsuit filed by the fishermen maintains that processors and Japanese importers conspired to lower prices paid to fishermen.

Defendants have argued that world market conditions pushed down fish prices as farmed fish made huge inroads.

Feldman told the jury that verifying prices was lawful behavior and had always been part of the culture of Bristol Bay.

He belittled suggestions that Trident President Chuck Bundrant would have conspired with other processors or importers to lower prices paid to fishermen.

It's ludicrous to suggest that Bundrant, who spent years fighting to keep the Japanese from fishing in Bristol Bay, would conspire with them against the fishermen, he said.

Feldman praised economist Gunnar Knapp, a research professor at University of Alaska, as a man of integrity, who testified without financial motives. He was a defense witness. The defense team paid Knapp's university salary, about $85 an hour, for his research and testimony, as well as his attendance at most of the trial.

He also blasted plaintiffs' economist Jeffrey Leitzinger, who concluded that fishermen were entitled to $385 million in damages for underpayment from 1991 to 1995. Leitzinger's theories were strictly voodoo economics, Feldman charged.

Attorneys for Wards Cove Packing Company and Ocean Beauty Seafoods also summed up their arguments for the jury.

Wards Cove counsel Doug Frey said it just didn't make sense that processors would conspire against the fishermen, whom they counted on to deliver the salmon.

It was understandable, Frey said, that fishermen were frustrated with the falling market. But they were simply wrong about any conspiracy, he argued.

Ocean Beauty attorney Bob Adolph said that competition was the crux of the case, and that Ocean Beauty competed and succeeded in the bay. ''Ocean Beauty paid higher in-season posted prices for 81 percent of the fish it purchased than did major processors,'' he said.

Another processor's attorney, Jim McGee for Icicle Seafoods, told jurors the plaintiffs' case was built on a mix of circumstantial evidence, facts and fiction. Most buyers of Icicle's fish were not even named in the lawsuit, he said.

The trial began February 3rd. Superior Court Judge Peter A. Michalski told jurors they would begin deliberations Friday.

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