Judge: sockeye case to go to jury Friday

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Jurors in the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon price fixing case will begin deliberations Friday, the judge said Wednesday.

The trial is winding to a close after more than three months of testimony in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Peter A. Michalski.

Attorneys for 4,500 Bristol Bay permit holders presented their closing arguments Tuesday. The defense is expected to conclude its case today.

What happened in Bristol Bay was a reverse of the infamous Enron situation, said Parker Folse, an attorney for the fishermen, Tuesday.

"Enron cooked the books to make themselves look better. In this case, the defendants massaged the numbers to make themselves look worse," he said. "The defendants broke the law and they must be held accountable."

Lawyers for the defendant processors and importers urged jurors Wednesday to return a quick verdict of no conspiracy.

"Common sense says it just didn't happen," said Jerry Greenan, an attorney for Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd., in his closing arguments. The Japanese company is among the importers and fish processors named as defendants in the price-fixing case.

Greenan urged jurors to answer "no" to the first question on the verdict form, whether a conspiracy existed.

"If you do that, you'll need to go no further," he said.

The importers and processors say the world market for fish went through a sea change in the 1990s, spurred by rising competition from farmed salmon and other factors. All that, they argue, pushed down the prices paid to fishermen.

They claim they lost millions of dollars in the bay from 1989 through 1995, the period the lawsuit covers. Meanwhile, they claim, fishermen collected their highest average revenues ever.

"Plaintiffs want you to think that Okaya was so powerful that it could control processors," said Richard Donovan, representing Okaya & Co., Ltd., another Japanese importer.

But that just wasn't so, he said.

There was no evidence that importers talked to each other about price fixing, Donovan said,.

"Price verification has been going on for at least 30 years," said Doug Frey, an attorney for Wards Cove Packing Co.

It's understandable that the fishermen were very frustrated with the falling market, but they're simply wrong about a conspiracy, Frey said.

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