San Diego-based tuna fish canning company, Bumble Bee Foods has just agreed to pay a $25 million fine following a guilty plea in a conspiracy to fix prices of shelf-stable canned tuna from 2011 to 2013. The United States Department of Justice continues its ongoing antitrust investigation into the actions of Bumble Bee Foods and its co-conspirators to determine the extent of wrongdoing. The DoJ also says that this fine will increase to $81.5 million if the company is sold.
As such, Bumble Bee Foods is cooperating with the packaged seafood industry antitrust investigation. Obviously, this single count charge reflects much bigger, broader concerns about the industry, as a whole. Indeed, the very limited competition among seafood industry businesses continues to be a major issue.
FBI San Francisco Division Special Agent in Charge, John F. Bennett comments, “Companies small and large hold a great deal of the American peoples’ trust and this type of unfair, greedy behavior will not be tolerated.”
Two Bumble Bee executives actually pleaded guilty to the price-fixing charges, which were filed last year. They have also agreed to cooperate with federal investigators. In addition, the company’s general counsel, Jill Irvin, said that Bumble Bee hired a chief compliance officer just last fall and had recently reformed its policies and guidelines.
She says: “The company has taken this matter very seriously and fully cooperated with the DOJ from the start of the investigation. We accept full responsibility for needing to earn back any lost trust in our company and will do so by acting with integrity and transparency in every way we operate our business.”
Of course, the plea agreement is still subject to court approval.
Still, Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, adds: “Today’s charge is the third to be filed — and the first to be filed against a corporate defendant — in the antitrust division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of packaged seafood.”
Bumble Bee’s senior vice president of sales and the company’s senior vice president of trade marketing have both agreed to plead guilty and both remain on paid leave as the investigation continues.