Nation’s Largest Seafood Company On The Hook In Fisherman Antitrust Litigation
A federal judge in Oregon has certified a class of fishermen in an antitrust lawsuit against Pacific Seafood Group, the nation’s largest seafood company.
The plaintiffs in Whaley et al. v. Pacific Seafood Group, et al. claim that defendants, Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold Seafoods, Inc., used market shares of 50 to 70 percent to monopolize the Dungeness crab, Oregon coldwater shrimp, groundfish, and whiting seafood markets, and conspired to pay plaintiffs below-market prices for fish.
U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner’s grant of class certification is a significant victory for plaintiffs alleging that commercial fishing vessel owners and fishermen were damaged by alleged anticompetitive practices of Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold.
The defendants had argued that the numerosity requirement was not met and that there was insufficient harm alleged. However, the attorneys for Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold were unable to convince Judge Panner that the lawsuit did not merit class action status.
Included in the certified class are commercial vessel owners as well as fishermen who do not own vessels. But Judge Panner decided against the inclusion of a subclass of fishermen who delivered Pacific whiting for onshore processing, stating that the proposed subclass was too small to satisfy the numerosity requirement of class certification.
The lawsuit stems from a 2006 agreement between Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold. Both companies claim that their partnership and practices only benefit the fleet, and that no matter how much market share they may command in the West Coast fishery, the companies are helping, not harming, the plaintiffs.
Alleging direct evidence of price fixing, plaintiffs argued that Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold used their collective buying power to fix prices for fish and intimidate competitors who might otherwise offer more competitive prices to the plaintiffs.
In addition to seeking more than $500 million in damages, the plaintiffs are asking the court to break Pacific Seafood into smaller parts, sell off many of its assets in the processing industry, and nullify the contract between Pacific Seafood and Ocean Gold.