A European Commission investigation – which was announced yesterday after E.C. officials raided Scottish and Dutch corporate offices of several seafood companies – is focused on anticompetitive practices in the Norwegian farmed salmon sector, according to SeafoodSource sources and public statements issued on Wednesday, 20 February.
European Commission investigators, along with U.K. and Dutch national competition authorities, took part in raids on Mowi’s facilities in Rosyth, Fife, Scotland and in Sterk, The Netherlands; at Grieg Seafood’s plant in Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands; and a facility in Stirling, Scotland that is operated by Scottish Sea Farms, which is jointly owned by SalMar and Lerøy Seafood.
On Tuesday, 19 February, Mowi, Grieg, and SalMar issued public statements responding to the raids; Lerøy Seafood issued its own on 20 February.
“E.U.'s competition authorities (European Commission Director General Competition) has conducted an inspection at the premises of Scottish Sea Farms Ltd. – a company owned 50 percent by Lerøy Seafood Group ASA (LSG). The purpose is, according to the competition authorities, to investigate accusations of anti-competitive cooperation in the salmon market,” the company said. “In connection with the inspection, the E.U. competition authorities [have] also requested for information from the shareholders in Scottish Sea Farms Ltd. LSG will assist the authorities in order to facilitate an efficient completion of the investigations.”
Also in response to the raids, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organization, a trade group representing the Scottish farmed salmon sector, issued a statement saying it believed the raids were focused on a jurisdiction other than Scotland.
“The SSPO is aware of the inspections carried out by E.C. officials at premises belonging to salmon companies in relation to allegations of anti-competitive practices. However, we understand the focus of the investigation is another jurisdiction, not Scotland,” it said. “The companies concerned are co-operating fully with the investigatory authorities and all further inquiries should be referred to the E.C.”
A letter sent by the E.C. to salmon producers with operations in Scotland stated that its investigation is focused on price-fixing amongst Norwegian salmon producers, according to the Guardian.
“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 letter said.
SeafoodSource has seen the letter, and industry sources confirmed its existence and legitimacy.
An industry source confirmed to SeafoodSource the raids in the U.K. and the Netherlands were focused on potential misdeeds on the part of Norwegian operators, and that the raided sites were chosen because they were satellite facilities of operators from Norway – a country that is not a part of the European Union.
Norwegian salmon producers are responsible for 84 percent of the farmed salmon imported into the European Union in 2016, according to The Guardian.
Reached for comment by SeafoodSource, an E.C. spokesperson declined to say why the investigation was initiated, nor did it identify which companies are being investigated or which sites its investigators visited. A statement from the E.C. on Tuesday, 19 February noted the investigation is at a preliminary stage and that it is focused on alleged anti-competitive business practices.
Companies discovered to be in violation of E.U. antitrust rules can be fined up to 10 percent of their global turnover.