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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 16:23 GMT
Alaska salmon price-fixing trial opens
Alaskan fishermen handling salmon in Bristol Bay
Salmon prices have fallen dramatically in Alaska
A court case has opened in Alaska over allegations of salmon price-fixing.

The case has been brought by thousands of fishermen, who are alleging that 17 companies fixed the price of salmon between 1991 and 1995.

The fishermen are a resource, just like the salmon are, and they need protection

Bruce Stanford, attorney
The fishermen say arrangements between processing companies and traders nearly drove them out of business and they are now seeking at least $1bn (607m) in compensation and penalties.

The trial comes 12 years after fishermen docked their boats in Alaska's Bristol Bay to protest against low prices set by the seafood processors.

Largest salmon run

"The fishermen are a resource, just like the salmon are, and they need protection," said Bruce Stanford, a lawyer who filed the case in 1995.

"They need an equal playing field. And it's not equal."

Seventeen companies have been listed as defendants, including Japanese sea food giant Nippon Suisan.

Bristol Bay, in south-west Alaska, holds the world's largest run for sockeye, a type of salmon.

The most important market for the region's salmon is Japan.

Market forces

The 1991 fishermens' strike came after processors offered 50 cents a pound (0.45 kg) for sockeye.

Three years before, the fishermen got more than $2 for a pound.

The fisherman say prices were kept low by the industry while the processors argue prices plunged because of market forces.

Alaska salmon prices have remained low in recent years.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game said the fishermen were paid an average of 45 cents a pound for sockeye last year.

Out of court deal

Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski has set a three-month schedule for the trial.

Although Judge Michalski had dismissed the case in 1999 for lack of evidence, the state Supreme Court reversed his decision three years later.

Some of the fishermen's claims have already been settled out of court.

In 1998, Mitsui agreed to pay $6.25m to the fishermen.

See also:

07 May 02 | Science/Nature
19 Apr 02 | Business
10 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
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