Your canned tuna may be shelf stable, but it will no longer be price stable.
Fish giant Bumble Bee Foods agreed today to plead guilty to a one-count felony charge for price fixing, according to the Department of Justice.
According to a press release from the Department’s Antitrust Division, Bumble Bee conspired with other seafood sellers to keep shelf-stable tuna fish at a set price, an anti-competitive move prohibited by the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. According to the guilty plea agreement signed by a former Bumble Bee executive involved in the fixing, the grounds for prosecution appear very cloak, dagger, and canned tuna: the company held “meetings with representatives of other major packaged-seafood-producing firms,” during which “agreements and mutual understandings were reached to fix, raise, and maintain the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States.”
Price fixing occurs when a product’s price is forced higher to benefit sellers, but any conspiracy to coordinate pricing among sellers also counts as fixing, and is viewed by the Federal Trade Commission as an unfair business practice. Other companies implicated in this investigation include Starkist and Tri-Union Seafoods, which owns Chicken of the Sea.
Bumble Bee also agreed to pay a $25 million fine and cooperate with an ongoing investigation into the packaged seafood industry. This latest charge marks the third in the investigation; the first two were against Bumble Bee executives: former senior vice president of sales Walter Scott Cameron and former senior vice president of trade marketing Kenneth Worsham, each of whom pled guilty and face ten years in prison. As of December, the two were on paid leave.