Former tuna company executive pleads guilty to price-fixing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former StarKist executive pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiring with officials from other tuna companies to fix the price of canned seafood in the United States from 2011 to 2013, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

Stephen Hodge, a former senior vice president of sales at StarKist, pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information that was filed on May 30 in federal court in San Francisco.

A criminal information is a type of charging document prosecutors tend to use in connection with people who are negotiating plea deals.

Hodge, who agreed to pay a fine and cooperate with the investigation by the department’s antitrust division, will be sentenced by the court later, the statement said.

Hodge is one of three executives to plead guilty in the conspiracy. The Justice Department said he met with officials from other canned seafood companies, which were not named, “to fix, raise and maintain the prices” of canned seafood.

Bumble Bee Foods 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.

The U.S. canned tuna market has long been dominated by three companies. Thai Union Group’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.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Bill Trott