StarKist Co., Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea are among the canned seafood companies named in an antitrust action alleging price fixing in the $2.6 billion market for as long as 15 years.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco Thursday accuses the large seafood packaging firms with a conspiracy to fix or maintain prices, allocate customers among them and restrict market capacity.
Texas-based Affiliated Foods filed the lawsuit.
The action comes in the wake of reports in July the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division issues subpoenas to the packaged seafood industry as part of an investigation.
Thai Union, which owns Chicken of the Sea brand, shelved a public offering of $1.5 billion to purchase Bumble Bee Seafoods, as well.
Following decades of growth in demand for canned tuna and other seafood, demand began to decline in 2000 in the face of fears of mercury poisoning and public concern over dolphin bycatch in tuna fishing, the suit alleges. Consumers began to shift away from packaged seafood.
Although demand dropped, prices continued to rise between 2000 and 2015, the suit states.
The suit contends Bumble Bee, StarKist and Tri-Union conspired through face-to-face meetings, phone calls and to exchange sensitive market information in order to fix, raise or maintain prices of their products.
Case: Affiliated Foods Inc. v. Tri-Union Seafoods, No. 15-cv-3815