Former tuna company executive accused of price-fixing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former tuna company executive faces one charge of conspiring with officials from other tuna companies to fix the price of canned seafood from 20D11 to 2013, according to a court filing.

Stephen Hodge was charged on May 30 through a “criminal information,” a type of charging document prosecutors tend to use in connection with people who are negotiating plea deals.

StarKist said in a statement that Hodge had worked for the company but left in December 2013. “StarKist has cooperated and is continuing to fully cooperate with the investigation,” StarKist said.

The Justice Department declined to say if a plea agreement would be coming. Hodge could not be reached for comment.

The canned tuna market in the United States has long been dominated by three companies. Thai Union’s Chicken of the Sea is the largest, followed by Bumble Bee and StarKist. In December 2015, the Justice Department stopped Thai Union Group from buying Bumble Bee.

StarKist is a subsidiary of the Dongwon Group of South Korea.

Bumble Bee Foods LLC agreed in May to plead guilty to one count of fixing the prices of canned tuna and to pay a criminal fine of $25 million. Two of its executives agreed to plead guilty to price-fixing in December.

In the filing with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the Justice Department said that Hodge met with officials from other canned seafood companies, which were not named, “to fix, raise and maintain the prices” of canned seafood.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio