A price-fixing scandal in the tuna aisle

Collusion-in-a-can. So many price-fixing conspiracy stories, so little time. This week, our favorite alleged poultry collusion story plays second banana to a price-fixing conspiracy story of another flavor. And this one complete with a felony charge!

Walter Scott Cameron, senior vice president of sales at Bumble Bee, supplier of canned tuna and other packaged seafood, pled guilty to a one-count felony charge filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

The DOJ’s Antitrust Division has been conducting an ongoing probe into price fixing among the three largest canned tuna suppliers.

According to a press release published Wednesday on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website, as early as 2011 and until 2013, Cameron and unnamed co-conspirators “discussed the prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States and agreed to fix the prices of those products. The defendant and his co-conspirators negotiated prices and issued price announcements for packaged seafood in accordance with the agreements they reached.”

While the DOJ did not include the name of the company Cameron works for in its press release (referring to it only as a “leading packaged seafood company”), multiple sources including the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the New York Times, identified the company as Bumble Bee.

The DOJ’s Antitrust Division has been conducting an ongoing probe into price fixing among the three largest canned tuna suppliers–Bumble Bee, Starkist, and Chicken of the Sea. Wednesday’s charge is the first to be filed as a result of its investigation.

According to the New York Times, Bumble Bee’s general counsel and senior vice president Jill Irvin has said in a statement: “The company is hopeful that it can reach a resolution with DOJ on this matter, as it relates to the Company, in early 2017. Because the investigation is ongoing, we cannot provide any additional information or comments on this matter at this time.”

We at NFE, however, can comment: Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to conspire and you feed him until he gets caught.

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Kate Cox is The Counter's editor. She oversees partnerships and edits investigative, feature, and senior staff reporting. Prior to joining The Counter in 2015, Kate was a freelance reporter for radio and text, focused on health policy and the American age boom. She has written for The Guardian, The Nation, Huffington Post, and others. She holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where she produced and reported a three-part radio documentary on the nation's first emergency shelter for victims of elder abuse.