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California crabbers sue seafood giant, alleging Dungeness price fixing

Dungeness crabs caught in San Francisco on Dec. 29, 2021, the first day of the season. | Mike Kuba

Scores of California crabbers are suing one of the largest seafood-processing companies in the nation, alleging illegal Dungeness crab price fixing.

Longtime California crabber Brand Little filed a lawsuit Tuesday in San Francisco’s federal court on behalf of himself and around 1,400 other commercial crabbers alleging that the conglomerate of companies known as Pacific Seafood artificially suppressed the price paid to crabbers for years.

While the suit is presented as a class action, there is only a single named plaintiff and no class has been certified yet.

The complaint alleges Pacific Seafood illegally fixed Dungeness prices by shutting down significant competitors in the market and coercing other fish buyers into agreements through blackballing and boycotts, among other strong-arm tactics.

“Pacific Seafood simply needs to take its thumb off the scale and let the free market operate. That’s all that we are asking for,” said Little in a press release from Gross Klein PC law firm, who represents him and the other crabbers. “If Pacific Seafood’s manipulation of the Dungeness crab wholesale-input market is not stopped, independent commercial crabbers like myself and the rest of the class will disappear.”

A crabbing boat sits near a harbor.
A boat departs San Francisco before dusk to fish for Dungeness crabs. | Mike Kuba/The Standard

Dan Occhipinti, chief legal officer for Pacific Seafood, told The Standard he was confident the suit would be dismissed.

“This is a completely baseless lawsuit filed by a fisherman who doesn’t do business with us and doesn’t know our company at all,” Occhipinti said in an emailed statement.

Little believes the success of the suit against Pacific Seafood is critical to the health of the industry.

“There will just be a small group of Pacific Seafood sharecroppers, rather than over a thousand independent businesses,” Little said. “I’m not going to sit back and just watch that happen without a fight.”