A public watchdog and advocate for fishermen and their coastal communities. Taufen is an "insider" who blew the whistle on the international profit laundering between global affiliates of North Pacific seafood companies, who use illicit accounting to deny the USA the proper taxes on seafood trade. The same practices are used to lower ex-vessel prices to the fleets, and to bleed monies from our regional economy.
March 28th, 2006Contemplating Trident & the Fish Matrix
March 24th, 2006Ocean Reform School Needed:
March 16th, 2006ADF&G's Campbell: The Betrayer
March 7th, 2006Fishing-Dependent Communities
February 27th, 2006GAO on DAPs: Councils Lack Effective Participation Framework
February 16th, 2006Council Scared of Capitalism: Serves Transnational Masters Instead
February 16th, 2006Tensions High at Advisory Panel on GOA Privatization
Challenging a Bad Merger is Your Job:The most important fact first: If you inform the Federal Trade Commission about your concerns with the Trident-Ocean Beauty merger, by law it will be kept completely confidential. You have absolutely no reason to fear getting involved.
The FTC will base its decisions on the facts, and considers that you cannot change those facts, although you may illuminate the agency about them, and provide or tell them where to get information.
Send your E-mails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
And we have read court challenges to this confidentiality and can assure you the United States government and Supreme Court will stand behind protecting you - and all informants, from fishermen spouses and children to the fish plant competing next door - from any exposure and retaliation. You have a choice to just inform the FTC and then tell no one, or join the Groundswell and tell everyone that you voiced your concerns - because this merger is pure Thalassocracy! It is in many ways monopolistic and anti-competitive.
We are not opposed to the entire merger, because some parts of it may be good for consumers - if proper oversight occurs. But it could easily be rotten for fishermen, and should not be allowed to proceed without modification as to which assets may be acquired. As you know, some operations must be excluded - and it is the FTC's job to examine this, and your job to help them.
Just mail your "informant complaint" with a USA stamp to: Northwest Region - Federal Trade Commission; Board of Competition; 2896 Federal Building, 915 Second Avenue; Seattle, Washington 98174. A short letter will do, as your simple goal is to force a "second request" from the government of the merging parties, based on legitimate concerns. Put your return address inside if you are scared, and drop it in the post office after dark, but do it now!
If you feel that the merger will be anticompetitive in any way, build monopolistic powers, or otherwise harm free enterprise - like lowering your fish price or preventing you from bargaining at all - then express your concerns immediately. Here's how to do it - and it can be only one page (but we think you'll want to write out enough to educate investigators about our fisheries). Don't worry about whether or not the FTC is going to find experts who can help them dig further, but do state any special insight you have.
Believe me, they have already been informed of many other federal and law enforcement folks to consult, as well as given contact names for expert witnesses and trustworthy economic analysts, and warned off regarding others. But, you must not presume they do not need to hear from you. It is a big decision to do a "second request" and they must make that decision for legitimate reasons, so please speak out.
Title your letter of complaint or information as "Formal Complaint filed with FTC regarding Proposed Merger of Trident Seafoods and Ocean Beauty." State your full name, address, business affiliations, contact phone and email, and whether or not you are just giving information and insight or would also like to volunteer should it become necessary during any litigation.
Begin your letter with a paragraph like this, "My area of concern with the Trident-Ocean Beauty merger is with the anti-competitive business practices in regards to these aspects of the proposed operations." Then state specifically whether you are talking about one particular plant or operation, a fishing zone and your role in it as a harvester, or opposition to the entire merger or any of its specifics.
Your next paragraph should state what you desire, such as "The proposed merger should be modified to exclude from the combination the Naknek plant currently owned by Ocean Beauty. As a fisherman seller, this would cause me to face monopoly buyer power in the region of my historical business operations." Or, "I believe the merger should not proceed without examining the effects of consolidation in the Kodiak Island region should the Kodiak plant be included in the merger, instead of offered up to competitors or otherwise kept apart. Trident already has a major role in this regional fishery and to allow it to have dominant buying power would harm my business and community." Then go on to explain in a few paragraphs what you mean, what that merger would do to harm you, and why you'd prefer the FTC examine the proposal further.
Some of you will want to point to the poor history of antitrust enforcement in fisheries in Alaska, the failures of these actions, the long-term drop in ex-vessel prices absent drops in consumer prices, and many other factors. Be sure to point the investigators to any evidence or records you believe that they should subpoena. If you have special expertise, mention your willingness to provide further facts should a "second request" process begin.
Your job in this first letter is to be honest about real concerns specific to how the merger affects your business or role, and convincing about why the FTC and DOJ should look deeper. If you want, it is o.k. to describe your feelings and knowledge of any bad business practices or behavior of specific executives that cause you legitimate concerns.
And many of you are brilliant, and have been waiting for the right place and time to speak out. Don't be suckered into thinking that someone else will speak out, so that you don't have to. As a recent Cordova driftnet fleet correspondence indicated, the idea that you can hide in your cocoon is over - even for the Copper River fleet. This merger will have huge impact on that region and elsewhere. Petersburg loyalists had better wake up, as well. Kodiak has, and Bristol Bay fleets should be screaming, Enough! The FTC will not charge you a dime.
In 1997, economist Clyde W. Crews, Jr., a former aide to Senator Lloyd Graham (R-TX) became a Fellow in Regulatory Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and said:
"A real 'antitrust law' worthy of the name would be one that eliminated genuine government-granted monopoly power, such as . quotas. and exclusive franchises. The antitrust laws unfortunately lend themselves to the creation of artificial monopoly power at the urging of special interests. Coercive monopoly should be recognized as the corporate welfare that it actually is, rather than an attribute of the free marketplace."
Back in 1997, when reviewing the West Coast's Whiting Conservation Cooperative, the Department of Justice said that:
"Elimination of the race to gather an input whose output is fixed by regulation appears unlikely to reduce output or to raise prices [to consumers]. The Department has no present intention to challenge this proposal."
But what about your role and rights, and the laws about fair and equitable allocations and the Treasury Department's responsibility for ensuring proper resource acquisition prices? What of the IRS's role in taxation? We've illuminated this and more.
Were you at the last Council meeting, you'd have been cod-slapped across the cheeks by some of the masters as they dragged out that old DOJ whiting opinion and used it like Hoyle. Wrong, the facts may show that limited reasoning, but that's not all there is to be concerned about, and the DOJ has said much since then. You can still challenge their friendly cartel, and they know it. Trident said it expects no challenge (a foolish public relations tactic) - which is really an admission that they are the ones with real fear. Of you. Well, at least while you still have rights. You do not have to suffer this next act of retribution and disenfranchisement.
The Federal Trade Commission's antitrust arm is called the Bureau of Competition. It seeks to prevent the restraint of competition through business practices that are attempts to monopolize, are conspiracies in restraint of trade, or anticompetitive mergers and acquisitions, and otherwise affect prices and availability of products and services. Their mission is to investigate. 'Your mission, should you choose to accept it,' is to inform them.
They work closely with the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. Then, when appropriate, together they may undertake formal enforcement action. If the Bureau decides to take corrective action, it will use litigation before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) or through the federal court. Likewise, the Bureau can prepare testimony for Congress, and may present comments on specific competition issues before other agencies.
This is not like facing a generally lazy and ignorant jury or calling a preacher fisherman a liar in court, or using Alaska's politicians to influence the jury - or bribing or fooling some state official to endorse the merger. Or getting affidavits from people who are sucking up to industry giants but were never present for the assaults in the first place. Bullyism is about to backfire - and you can make sure that it does. Those endorsing the merger will not look so good when sitting before a judge to explain why they helped with the public relations tricks.
That you happen to fish for one of these companies is no rationale for not protecting your business and family's interests. So please, we'd rather not hear from another scared fisherman who wants to talk just to end the phone call with apathy, fear (usually of feeling fear itself), cowardice or dumbfounded blindness after his having illuminated all the reasons why the merger is no good for him and his community.
Again, there is no acceptable excuse for failing to report your concerns with the merger. And you should make sure that your fellow fishermen also understand they have no excuse. The merging companies and their lawyers and even the powerful politicians in their pockets may not trespass on the FTC's variety of privileges protecting you from such disclosures. These include work product doctrine (a protection familiar to accountants and consultants), the deliberative process privilege, and most importantly, the government informant privilege.
Again, you must act now. Rest assured that UFA will fail to say a peep. They will not offer a single drop of fish water to put out a raging monopoly fire. And that is going to be their final marker on the blackboard of willful irresponsibility and a deliberate failure to protect Alaska's fishermen.
Remember, no one will be able to know that you even complained, and thus be able to retaliate against you for speaking up. Need we even mention your First Amendment Rights? Every member of Groundswell is still alive, and despite recent attempts to intimidate us, they have just encouraged us further!
Our job is to educate you and encourage you to bear witness and protect your small business and fishing-dependent community. And to remind you that fear is "false events appearing real" and usually just a fear of feeling alive, which means going through the fear to get what is really yours. We've embraced the fear and done that job. Please do yours. Send in a complaint if you have one, or forever suffer the consequences.
Stephen Taufen - Groundswell Fisheries Movement