Plaintiffs' attorneys challenge Trident documents

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Attorneys in a price-fixing lawsuit argued Wednesday about documents showing a processor of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon made slim profits on 220 million pounds of fish.

Trident Seafoods calculated that fishermen from 1989 through 1995 earned an average of 53 cents a pound on frozen sockeye sold in Japan, compared to a 7-cent-a-pound profit for the company.

The figures were challenged by attorneys for 4,500 fishermen who are seeking more than $1 billion in damages, alleging price-fixing.

Plaintiffs' lawyers said Trident took into consideration the company's expenses, but not those of fishermen when coming up with the figures.

Parker Folse, a lead attorney for the fishermen, said a chart the defense prepared was meant "to show that Trident was barely keeping its nose above water and the fishermen were making out like bandits."

He said the chart showed losses for three years that had nothing to do with the fishermen.

Steve Okerlund, Trident's chief operating officer, testified that the company sustained millions of dollars in losses in frozen sockeye products in 1989, 1990 and 1992, due to tough market conditions, including a deal gone sour with a major importer in Japan.

Figures for 1989 showed a $3.5 million loss to Trident on frozen sockeye salmon. To reach that figure, Trident subtracted several million dollars in processor expenses, including payments to harvesters, freight and other costs.

Trident began its defense Monday as the trial moved into its sixth week in Anchorage Superior Court. Fishermen are suing Seattle-based processors and Japanese importers they claim conspired to fix prices in Bristol Bay from 1989 to 1995.

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