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Carl Hittinger and Alyse Stach of Baker & Hostetler. Carl W. Hittinger and Alyse Stach of Baker & Hostetler.

The shelf-stable tuna industry has been decidedly unstable behind the shelves. In 2014, two of the “big three” industry leaders—Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea—announced a proposed merger that would have swamped the then-industry leader StarKist. Routine HSR (Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act), antitrust scrutiny and the eventual rejection of the $1.5 billion merger by the Department of Justice turned out to be the least of the companies’ problems.

The tuna merger approval process, which traditionally includes turning over both deal and relevant market documents to the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission, uncovered a price-fixing scheme that erupted into a subsequent criminal investigation, costly civil lawsuits, crushing criminal fines, a bankruptcy filing and potential lengthy jail time for criminally charged executives. The landscape of the canned tuna industry has now been shaken in ways not predicted when the potential three-to-two merger was announced. Merging companies should pay attention to this tuna tale and go into merger reviews with their eyes wide open.

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