Settlement reached in salmon-price suit

Photo/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
ANCHORAGE -- Marubeni Corp., a major defendant in the $1 billion Bristol Bay salmon price-fixing lawsuit, has reached a $25 million settlement in the case, the company announced Feb. 6.

The announcement from Tokyo came as opening arguments continued for the other defendants in the case in Superior Court in Anchorage. Marubeni’s attorneys, who left the courtroom, had been expected to address jurors Feb. 7.

"Settlement agreement is not an admission or suggestion that the Marubeni Group defendants have committed any wrongdoing and the Marubeni Group defendants have denied and continue to deny any wrongdoing or liability," the company said in a news release.

The lawsuit, filed in 1995, alleges that Seattle-based processors and Japanese importers conspired to fix prices in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, from 1989 to 1995.

Attorneys for some 4,500 fishermen who are part of the class action, said in opening statements Feb. 5 that the defendants conspired to grab a higher portion of profits as their markets shrank in the late 1980s.

The defense, led by attorneys for Trident Seafoods and Wards Cove Packing Co., contends that world salmon market conditions, not a conspiracy, were the cause of reduced prices to fishermen.

Prior to Marubeni’s settlement, several other defendants had settled out of court for a total of $15 million. Settlement funds, now exceeding $40 million, are being held in escrow until the conclusion of court proceedings.

Marubeni Corp., Marubeni America Corp., and North Pacific Processors Inc., which is owned by Marubeni, were considered major defendants in the case. Defendant importers remaining in the case include Japanese importers Okaya & Co. Ltd., Nichirei Corp., Nichiro Corp., and Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd. Defendant processors include Trident, Wards Cove, Icicle Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods and Unisea Inc.

In opening arguments Feb. 7, Mike Kipling, lead attorney for the defendant Nichiro Corp., and its subsidiary processor, Peter Pan Seafoods, said that Peter Pan recently marked 100 years in Bristol Bay. He intends to call as witnesses several longtime Bristol Bay fishermen who will testify that Peter Pan has always treated them well and fairly, and provided them with other valuable benefits, he said.

Kipling said that Nichiro does, from time to time, "give advice to Peter Pan about where the market is headed," but said, because they are related companies, that communication is legal and not conspiracy.

Attorneys for Icicle Seafoods, Okaya and Nichirei also addressed jurors Feb. 7. Ocean Beauty, Unisea and Nippon Suisan were expected to wrap up opening statements for the defense Feb. 10, before plaintiffs present their first witnesses.

02/16/2003 - 8:00pm