State won't interfere in seafood merger

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The state will not contest the merger of two Japanese seafood companies with major operations in Alaska.

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The investigation found no antitrust violation in the coupling of Maruha and Nichiro, said Ed Sniffen, of the Alaska attorney general's office in Anchorage.

The companies completed their merger on Oct. 1, becoming Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc.

Some fishermen and fishing towns raised concerns about the merger, questioning whether the new firm might consolidate processing plants or pay less for catches. Gov. Sarah Palin ordered an antitrust investigation over the summer.

Greg Baker, president of Seattle-based Westward Seafoods Inc., a unit of the newly merged company, said Friday he wasn't surprised at the outcome of the state's investigation.

He said Maruha and Nichiro had little overlap in their Alaska operations, and no plant closings or other big changes are planned.

"There was never any antitrust problem with this," he said. "This is something that's going to be largely invisible to Alaskans and Alaska communities."

Baker added that federal authorities including the U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission also reviewed and cleared the merger.

"We grappled with it. We did a lot of research. We interviewed dozens of people and looked through boxes of documents," Sniffen said. "At the end of the day we concluded we were not taking any action."

In past mergers involving other industries such as oil and supermarkets, state officials demanded divestitures and other conditions.

Going into the merger, Maruha's Alaska holdings included the huge Westward and Alyeska processing plants at Dutch Harbor, which is the nation's biggest port for seafood landings. Maruha also operated the Western Alaska plant in Kodiak.

Nichiro owned Peter Pan Seafoods, which operates plants in Dillingham, Port Moller, King Cove and Valdez that pack salmon and other kinds of fish and shellfish.

Maruha and Nichiro also were involved with three offshore pollock processing vessels known as motherships.

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