Norwegian salmon giants reach USD 33 million settlement in price-fixing lawsuit

Published on
October 13, 2022
Farmed salmon fillets.

A second settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging Norway’s major salmon-farming firms colluded to fix the prices of farmed salmon sold in the United States will cost them USD 33 million (EUR 33.7 million).

The suit, filed by the so-called “indirect purchaser” class of plaintiffs, was settled out of court on 8 September, 2022, and was formally presented to the judge presiding over the case on 6 October. Judge Rodney Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida still must approve the settlement before it is finalized.

In a separate but related lawsuit, the “direct purchaser” class agreed to a settlement in May 2022 with the Norwegian firms, which include Mowi, SalMar, Lerøy Seafood, Grieg Seafood, and Cermaq, that will pay them USD 85 million (EUR 86.9 million) in exchange for dropping litigation alleging price-fixing. That settlement was finalized in September 2022. The same mediator – Edward Infante, a retired former chief magistrate judge for the Northern District of California – was used in both cases.

“After several weeks of intense and hard-fought negotiations following an in-person mediation session and additional sessions by video conference and telephone, [plaintiffs] reached a settlement agreement with all defendants,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in the settlement document.

The new deal comes after three years of litigation, during which time the law firms representing the plaintiffs in both cases worked together on discovery that included the review of more than 872,000 documents.

This is an excellent result for the class and avoids lengthy litigation and the uncertainties inherent in prosecuting a complex indirect-purchaser action against foreign defendants,” they wrote in the proposed settlement agreement.

The lawsuits came after it became known publicly that investigations into potential price-fixing were being conducted by the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. Those investigations have not resulted in any criminal or civil charges and neither agency has responded to inquiries from SeafoodSource as to whether their inquiries remain active.

The plaintiffs include seafood distributors, caterers, foodservice operations, and restaurants across the United States. Notifications will be issued to others eligible for remuneration under the terms of the settlement, which includes purchasers of farm-raised salmon between April 10, 2013 and October 2022 in 32 U.S. states. Attorney’s fees will consume 30 percent of the total settlement fund.

The entire list of defendents includes Mowi, Mowi USA, Mowi Canada West, Ducktrap River of Maine, Grieg Seafood, Grieg Seafood BC, Grieg Seafood North America, Ocean Quality North America, Grieg Seafood USA, Ocean Quality Premium Brands, Sjór AS, SalMar, Lerøy Seafood, Lerøy Seafood USA, Cermaq Group, Cermaq US, Cermaq Canada, and Cermaq Norway. 

In nearly identical statements issued by those companies following the previous settlement, each denied engaging in collusion or price manipulation.

“We expressly reject the allegations regarding anti-competitive behavior and strongly believe that the antitrust claims lack merit,” they said.

The companies said they chose to pay a settlement “given that the costs of litigation in the U.S. are substantial, coupled with the timeline for any litigation and required engagement of extensive internal resources.”

“[We] have nonetheless agreed to a settlement for pure commercial purposes,” they said. “The settlement does not involve any admission of liability or wrongdoing.”

Photo courtesy of Chang-Pooh24/Shutterstock

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