The Guardian

EU raids salmon farmers in Scotland in price-fixing inquiry

Severin Carrell

Feb 20, 2019
European commission investigators have raided salmon farming businesses in Scotland and other European countries in an inquiry into suspected price-fixing by Norwegian producers.

The anti-cartel investigators raided sales offices owned by Mowi, formerly Marine Harvest, in Rosyth in Fife, a Scottish Sea Farms site and a salmon farm operated by Grieg in Shetland on Tuesday, as well as sites in the Netherlands and other EU member states.

An industry source said the commission’s investigation is focusing on allegedly restrictive trading practices in Norway, but since the country is not an EU member the commission has had to raid offices in member states as part of its information-gathering.

The commission said in a letter handed yesterday to one of the raided firms that it was investigating suspected price-fixing by Norwegian producers, who controlled 84% of the farmed salmon imported into the EU in 2016.

The letter stated: “The commission has received information, from different actors operating at different levels in the salmon market, alleging that some Norwegian producers of farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon participate in or have participated [in] different ways of price coordination in order to sustain and possibly increase prices of farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon.”

The commission’s competition directorate said it “has concerns that the inspected companies may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices” set out in article 101 of the Lisbon treaty.

Firms found to be in breach of EU competition rules can be fined up to 10% of their global turnover. The industry is in intense competition to open up new markets, particularly in China and other parts of Asia.

It said officials from UK and Dutch national competition authorities took part in the raids. “Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices,” it added.

“The fact that the commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.”

Norwegian firms dominate the global salmon farming industry, with Mowi the largest of those worldwide and the largest operator in Scotland. Scottish Sea Farms, a joint venture between the Norwegian firms Salmar and Leroy Seafood, and Grieg Seafood are also majority Norwegian-owned.

Ola Helge Hjetland, a spokesman for Mowi, which rebranded itself in January, told Reuters: “We have nothing to hide, we are cooperating with the European commission.”

Grieg issued a statement making a similar point. “Grieg Seafood aims to be open, transparent and forthcoming and will provide all necessary information requested” by the commission in its investigation, it said.

A spokesperson for Scottish Sea Farms told the BBC: “We can confirm that we, like other Norwegian-owned companies in Scotland, have been visited by EC officials and are cooperating fully.”

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