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Norwegian salmon firms face $500M class action over price-fixing allegations

Canadian lawsuit filed after probes launched by EU, U.S. authorities

Norwegian salmon producers with business interests in North America are facing a potential class-action lawsuit seeking up to $500 million over allegations they colluded to fix the prices of product that ended up on the plates of consumers across Canada.

The Canadian lawsuit — filed Jan. 3 at Federal Court in Toronto — comes in the wake of other civil actions south of the border, and regulatory inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The companies deny wrongdoing.

Anti-poverty activist Irene Breckon of Elliot Lake, Ont. — who played a similar role in a past, now inactive class-action effort against grocery giant Loblaws — is the lead plaintiff in the just-filed Federal Court proceeding.

It would include anyone in Canada who bought farmed salmon and related products after July 1, 2015.

“I really believe that we need to fight against these big businesses that are taking advantage of people,” Breckon said in an interview with CBC News.

The defendants include Norwegian companies Grieg Seafood, Leroy Seafood Group, Mowi, and a number of their U.S. and Canadian subsidiaries. (The Newfoundland operation carrying the Grieg name has a local ownership component, and is not on the list.)

Also named as defendants are SalMar of Norway, and Scottish Sea Farms Ltd., which is described in court documents as the U.K.’s second-largest producer of salmon and a joint venture of SalMar and Leroy.

“The defendants and their unnamed co-conspirators control the Canadian salmon market through their market share,” says the statement of claim filed by Toronto-based Sotos LLP.

It alleges they were part of a conspiracy “to fix the global and North American prices of salmon.”

The allegations have not been tested in court, and no statements of defence have been filed at this point.

The lawsuit needs judicial approval to proceed as a class action.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Grieg Seafood said it has been made aware of the lawsuit in Canada.

“It is related to the separate investigations by the EU Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, where they look into possible anti-competitive behaviour in the salmon farming industry,” Kristina Furnes, Grieg Seafood’s global communications manager, wrote.

“We are not aware of any anti-competitive behaviour, not in Norway, the EU, the U.S.A. or Canada. We are fully collaborating with European and American authorities in this matter. We will follow up the lawsuit accordingly.”

Mowi, meanwhile, noted that several companies have filed lawsuits against multiple Norwegian and Scottish salmon farming companies.

“The filings are all based on the inspections made by the EU Commission last year, alleging anti-competitive conduct,” Mowi group communications director Ola Helge Hjetland wrote in an emailed statement.

“Mowi has not been involved in price-fixing or other anti-competitive conduct, and believe that the allegations are unfounded.”

The other companies named as defendants did not immediately return messages from CBC News.

Collusion probes by EU, U.S. authorities

Nearly a year ago, the European Commission did “unannounced inspections” of several salmon companies related to possible collusion.

Civil suits related to alleged price-fixing were also filed in the U.S. in 2019.

Then in November, Mowi, Grieg Seafood, and SalMar all publicly disclosed that they were being subpoenaed by the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, in relation to a criminal investigation involving similar allegations.

At the time, Grieg Seafood said it was “not aware of any kind of practices that support the allegations,” and SalMar and Mowi said they “lack merit and are entirely unsubstantiated.”