Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Canned tuna company StarKist Co. agreed Thursday to plead guilty to price fixing packaged seafood, the Justice Department said.
The company said it agreed with co-conspirators to fix the prices of canned tuna between November 2011 and December 2013. StarKist said it would cooperate in the Justice Department's investigation.
"The conspiracy to fix prices on these household staples had direct effects on the pocketbooks of American consumers," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. "All Americans have the right to the benefits of free and open competition -- the best goods and services at a price free from collusion. We will continue to hold companies and individuals who cheat consumers accountable."
In May 2017, the Justice Department accused three major tuna brands, including Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee, of colluding to keep prices high for the products.
The "Big 3" supply about 80 percent of the $1.7 billion worth of canned tuna sold annually in the U.S., according to the court records.
The litigation describes regular telephone calls and meetings where "executives agreed that all three companies" would collectively "raise prices."
The government began investigating price-fixing among the three companies more than three years ago.
"Our citizens' confidence in the ability to buy goods within an unbiased market is key to sustaining an efficient and fair economy," said Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, FBI San Francisco. "This investigation stands as a symbol of our commitment to holding corporations and senior leadership accountable and ensuring that activities such as price fixing will not be tolerated."
StarKist faces up to a $100 million fine.
In May 2017, Bumble Bee Foods pleaded guilty to conspiring to fix the cost of canned and pouch tuna. The company agreed to pay a $25 million criminal fine, which will increase to a maximum criminal fine of $81.5 million if the company is sold.