October 22, 2018

The truth shell set you sea: StarKist admits to fixing tuna prices

StarKist finally admits to artificially hiking prices for canned tuna and could face as much as a $100m when sentenced.

StarKist Co. has agreed to plead guilty to a felony price-fixing charge as part of a near industry-wide collusion scandal involving the… wait for it… Tuna Council. AKA, the canned-tuna industry’s Big 3.

We’re talking a full-fledged Tuna conspiracy: According to the DOJ, Bumble Bee, StarKist, and Chicken of the Sea executives kept tuna prices artificially high between 2010 and 2013. 

Now, StarKist will face fines to the tuna $100m once sentenced.

Rat of the sea

According to court records, the scheme surfaced when Chicken of the Sea attempted to buy the struggling Bumble Bee back in 2015, in hopes of swimming past StarKist for the biggest tuna can in the US.

BUT, before the merger could happen, Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative, a food wholesaler in New York, realized something fishy was going on: Raw tuna prices had fallen, but canned tuna prices didn’t.

After putting the pieces together, Olean filed a lawsuit to stop the merger and keep the industry’s already “oligopolistic structure” from turning into a duopoly.

After the merger was blocked, Chicken of the Sea execs agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in exchange for immunity.

The fall of the Tuna Council

Last year, Bumble Bee Foods pleaded guilty to the same charge and paid a $25m fine. Two former Bumble Bee execs (and one from StarKist) each pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges, but have not been sentenced. 

Former Bumble Bee CEO Christopher Lischewski was also indicted back in May, but has pleaded not guilty.

Guess that’s just how the tuna melts.

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