Tunagate: How the Big 3 Fixed Canned Tuna Prices

Have you been paying too much for canned tuna? Recent lawsuits against the big three tuna companies say you have. Over at least the last five years the three major tuna companies: StarKist, Bumble Bee Tuna and Chicken of the Sea are accused of fixing the prices of canned tuna. How can they do this? The three companies together produce over three-quarters of all canned and packaged tuna. They are like OPEC, but for albacore.

Walmart is now stepping up to the plate to take on “Big Tuna” with a lawsuit filed at the end of October. Other major retailers have already filed suit, but Walmart is a juggernaut, even in the world of canned tuna, buying nearly a quarter of all tuna products by the big three tuna companies. There is a lot that can be said, good and bad about Walmart, but in this case, it seems like we are all on the same team. With price fixing on tuna, Walmart was getting unknowingly screwed, which was passed down to their customers.

Lawsuits Filed Against Canned Tuna’s “Big 3”


According to the suit by Walmart, canned tuna price fixing occurred through a tangled web of business dealings, formal and informal meetings, phone calls and emails.  The lawsuit describes these underhanded dealings by the Tuna Cartel:

“During these meetings and communications, [they] agreed on the terms of their conspiracy and exchanged confidential packaged tuna pricing and production information, including future confidential pricing and production information, and [they] agreed on the timing and amount of price increases.”

“Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and StarKist “Possessed significant market power to raise prices for packaged tuna above competitive levels in the United States…and they conspired to ensure they would stabilize and maintain their market shares in the packaged tuna market despite declining demand,” Walmart said in its suit.”

SeafoodSource.com

This is all happening on the heels of a recent class-action suit against StarKist, which claimed the company was under-filling their 5-ounce cans of tuna. I eat enough canned tuna to be aware of the rising prices and shrinking cans over the last ten years or so. Initially I assumed this had more to do with dwindling stocks, but at least with albacore tuna, that does not seem to be the case. Apparently it has EVERYTHING to do with corporate greed so blatantly executed, that Walmart had to throw its hat into the ring.

Here I was, about to write a review of those great “heritage pack” cans of solid albacore by Bumble Bee. Guess I’ll hold back on that one since I’ve been feeling the sting of Horatio Bee’s price gouging.

Bumble Bee VP Pleads Guilty

It has been reported by Undercurrent News and elsewhere, that senior vice president of Bumble Bee Tuna Scott Cameron, has pleaded guilty to price-fixing tuna. Mr. Cameron will be placed on paid leave and have to pay a fine. I’m sure he is not the only domino that will fall among the “Big 3” but seems pretty light on the punishment. Especially if you compare it to the risk taken by the people actually catching the tuna. A fisherman can lose his entire business for the slightest infraction, and this guy, part of a larger price-fixing scheme, gets a paid vacation and an “undisclosed” fine.

In February 2017 it was announced that Walter Scott Cameron could face up to 16 months in jail, along with a $25,000 fine. The punishment could have been higher, but due to Cameron’s cooperation, a lower sentence was recommended, but part of this plea-deal includes Cameron’s continued assistance. He will continue to submit himself to investigation, even testify against his partners in what seems like the tuna-fish version of a mob movie.

I know writing about canned tuna isn’t a very hot topic, but for some people canned seafood is all they can get or afford. I like canned tuna, there is always at least one can in my cupboard for a quick lunch. But over the years the price has gone up and cans have gotten smaller. That has been true for many supermarket staples lately, but then to have “big tuna” skim even more off the top is disgusting. This hits harder when you’re not bringing in much money and your grocery money is getting you even less than you thought.