Trident exec says he knew of no agreement to cut fish prices

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A processing company executive said Thursday that he knew of no agreements between processors and importers to reduce prices to fishermen for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.

Bart Eaton, a commercial fisherman and Trident Seafoods' executive vice president, also said he couldn't imagine that Chuck Bundrant, the president of Trident, would ever have participated in price fixing.

Eaton testified that when he got inquiries from fishermen on pricing he directed them to Bundrant.

Eaton's testimony was part of a class-action lawsuit being waged in Superior Court in which 4,500 Bristol Bay fishermen are seeking $1 billion damages from several Seattle-based processors and Japanese importers. The fishermen allege that the companies conspired to keep prices low from 1989 through 1995.

The jury trial began Feb. 3, and is expected to last about three months.

Eaton said he knew of no efforts between processors, or processors and importers to reduce prices to fishermen.

Stephen Susman, a lead attorney for plaintiffs, questioned Eaton more closely. "I'm talking about the CEO of one processor talking to the CEO of another processor" Susman said.

"I wasn't aware that this was going on," Eaton said. "I have a hard time remembering things that never happened."

Susman questioned Eaton about the lack of company records on meetings, how prices were determined or how that information was made available to fishermen.

Eaton said most reports were oral.

"Are there no written records pinpointing the time of post season adjustments or how a post season adjustment is arrived at?" Susman asked. "Not that I'm aware of," Eaton said.

Plaintiffs have maintained that top officials of processing companies shared pricing information, in an effort to keep down prices to harvesters, and that when one company adjusted prices, the others quickly followed suit.

Susman also asked Eaton about several letters to Trident fishermen, including one on May 15, 1990, advising fishermen that the company was in the final stages of selling its remaining salmon from the 1989 season.

Enclosed with each letter was a bonus of 3 cents a pound for each fisherman's 1989 sockeye salmon harvest delivered to Trident.

Plaintiffs maintain the rest of Trident's 1989 sockeye harvest was still in cold storage in Japan, awaiting sale, and the bonus was given because competing processors were paying a bonus to harvesters.

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