EU fines North Sea shrimp traders for price fixing cartel
The European Commission has fined four European North Sea shrimps traders a total of EUR 28.7 million (USD 39 million) for operating a cartel in breach of EU antitrust rules.
The companies are Heiploeg, Klaas Puul, Kok Seafood (all of the Netherlands) and Stührk (of Germany), combined they have a market share in the European Economic Area of about 80 percent. Between June 2000 and January 2009 Heiploeg and Klaas Puul agreed to fix prices and share sales volumes of North Sea shrimps in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Kok Seafood participated at least from February 2005 and Stührk was involved in price fixing in Germany from March 2003 to November 2007.
The purpose of the cartel was to freeze the market by stabilizing the suppliers' market shares in order to facilitate price increases and stimulate profitability. The cartel affected the EU market and sales in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands in particular.
The coordinated price level at which the retailer bought their shrimps directly affected the prices charged to the end-consumers.
Klaas Puul received full immunity from fines under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice, because it was the first to provide information about the cartel.
The fines were set on the basis of the EU 2006 Guidelines on fines. The commission took into account the companies' sales of the products concerned in the EU, the very serious nature of the infringement, its scope and its duration. For most of the parties to this case, North Sea shrimp constitute a large fraction of their turnover. For this reason, the fines of all parties would have been capped at 10% of their total turnover, the legal maximum set out in the Antitrust Regulation. Exceptionally, therefore, the commission exercised its discretion in accordance with point 37 of the guidelines and reduced the fines in a way that takes into account the characteristics of the companies and their differences in participation in the infringement. This leads to the fines on two of the companies being significantly below the legal maximum.
The individual fines are as follows:
• Klaas Puul, EUR 0
• Heiploeg, EUR 27 million (USD 36.7 million)
• Stührk, EUR 1.13 million (USD 1.54 million)
• Kok Seafood, EUR 502,000 (USD 682,486)
“This cartel undermined competition in the market for North Sea shrimps for several years, a market important for consumers in several EU countries,” said Joaquín Almunia, commission VP in charge of competition policy. “It is astonishing to see in what kind of detail North Sea shrimps traders in their frequent contacts with each other discussed commercially sensitive information concerning their business. And it is even more astonishing taking into account that the sector had already received a clear warning via the previous conviction of some traders by the Dutch competition authority.”