StarKist, which runs a tuna cannery in American Samoa, says paying a fine of over $US50 million would jeopardize its continued viability.
The company's attorneys made argument in court documents filed last week with the federal court in San Francisco, where StarKist will be sentenced later this month for its participation in a conspiracy to fix the price of canned tuna in the US.
Under a plea agreement the company had agreed to pay a criminal fine of $US100 million but it had hinted it would struggle to pay.
Department of Justice lawyers have asked the federal court to reject StarKist's "attempt to escape punishment for the crime it committed".
In its sentencing statement, StarKist argued for a $US50 million fine to be paid in instalments over five years, without interest, because it had limited financial resources, and faced declining demand, and substantial civil liability.
The company claims that it cannot pay more than a $US50 million fine, saying that even a fine of that amount may still impair its ability to make restitution and possibly "substantially jeopardize the ongoing viability of the organization".