Commercial fishermen, including a groundfish trawler from Astoria, have won a temporary restraining order blocking Pacific Seafood Group’s acquisition of Ocean Gold Seafoods, among the largest seafood processors on the West Coast.
The fishermen allege that the acquisition would increase Pacific Seafood’s monopoly power in the groundfish, whiting and coldwater shrimp markets in violation of federal antitrust law.
The complaint also claims there is a strong likelihood that Pacific Seafood will not rebuild a fish processing plant in Warrenton, lost in a 2013 fire, if it acquires controlling interest in Ocean Gold. Pacific Seafood has been leasing space from the Port of Astoria at Tongue Point since the Warrenton plant burned down.
“It will be of significant benefit to the competitive health of the West Coast fishing industry if (Ocean Gold) can be an independent competitor rather than under the control of Pacific Seafood through either an exclusive marketing agreement or by Pacific Seafood Group acquiring it,” said Michael Haglund, a Portland attorney representing the fishermen, including Dennis Rankin of Rankin Fish in Astoria.
A federal judge in U.S. District Court in Medford issued the temporary restraining order Friday and set a hearing for Feb. 9.
Commercial fishermen had previously filed a class-action lawsuit against Pacific Seafood that made similar allegations of monopoly business practices. A settlement in 2012 included a provision that Pacific Seafood would not extend an exclusive marketing agreement with Ocean Gold beyond February 2016.
Daniel Occhipinti, Pacific Seafood’s general counsel and director of government affairs, called the new lawsuit a “frivolous retread” of the previous suit. “We expect the complaint will be dismissed in short order,” he said.
Occhipinti rejected the suggestion that Pacific Seafood might not rebuild in Warrenton. “We are as committed to rebuilding in Warrenton today as we were the day after the tragic fire,” he said. “It’s a complicated process and it’s taking much longer than we would like. But we are committed.”
Pacific Seafood, based in Clackamas, is a dominant fish processor and distributor and also owns a fleet of 13 fishing boats. Along with the exclusive marketing agreement with Ocean Gold, Frank Dulcich, Pacific Seafood’s president and chief executive officer, already holds significant stock in the Westport, Wash., company.
The fishermen claim that Pacific Seafood’s dominance has caused a lack of competition that has led to price suppression.