New list of over 50 alleged tuna conspirators includes CEOs, association execs

Though the list is lengthy and full of top names from across the seafood sector, only two have been charged to date.

More than 50 top seafood execs are for the first time being named in a price-fixing case involving the three largest canned tuna brands in the United States.

Last week, dozens of plaintiffs, including Walmart and other major US supermarket chains, filed amended complaints in ongoing antitrust lawsuit cases against the largest US tuna producers for allegedly conspiring to fix canned tuna prices.

The deadline to file amended complaints last week coincided with the Department of Justice (DOJ)'s announcement that Bumble Bee Foods agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix the prices of canned and pouched tuna sold in the United States.

In a document attached to Walmart’s amended complaint, 56 seafood professionals are listed on a so-called 'Conspiracy’s Players List.'

It includes, not surprisingly, the top execs from each of the 'Big 3' tuna companies: Chris Lischewski of Bumble Bee; Thiraphong Chansiri of Thai Union/Chicken of the Sea; and In Soo Cho of Dongwon-owned Starkist.

The remainder of the list is made up mostly of senior executives from all three companies, many of whom worked for more than one of the Big 3 tuna firms during the time of the alleged price fixing scandal.

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John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), and Susan Jackson, the current head of tuna industry trade association International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), are also listed.

Connelly’s NFI operates the Tuna Council, a trade group representing tuna firms on food safety, labeling, sustainability, nutrition education and product marketing. The group also was behind a tuna marketing effort some years ago that is implicated in the price fixing case.

In a terse statement to IntraFish, NFI said it "was not involved in in any antitrust violations in any respect."

Jackson, from 2002 to 2008, served as a vice president of sourcing and government relations for Del Monte, which owned Starkist until 2008 when it sold the company to Dongwon.

Of the 56 names on the list, 20 are listed as being affiliated with Starkist and its past owner, Del Monte Foods, and current owner, Dongwon. Twenty-eight executives are associated with Chicken of the Sea or its owner Thai Union, and 11 on the list have ties to Bumble Bee.

While the bulk of those listed are not at the moment facing any charges or are listed as defendants in the amended complaints, two Bumble Bee executives have already pleaded guilty to charges in the case.

In December, Bumble Bee's current senior VP Kenneth Worsham pleaded guilty to a one-count felony charge for his role in the price-fixing conspiracy.

In early December, Bumble Bee Foods Senior Vice President Walter Scott Cameron agreed to plead guilty as well.

Like Cameron, Worsham agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

The new and amended complaints allege the defendants were “conspiring to increase prices of canned tuna … coordinating price increase announcements or pricing terms, secretly and collusively exchanging pricing information and prospective pricing announcements and business plans, and collectively reducing quantity and restraining output” from at least 2004 through July 2015.

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