Norwegian salmon firms come to settlement in US civil antitrust litigation
A settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against five major Norwegian salmon-farming firms.
Mowi, SalMar, Lerøy Seafood, Grieg Seafood, and Cermaq Group all announced on Wednesday, 25 May they will pay USD 85 million (EUR 79.7 million) to settle a complaint from direct-purchaser plaintiffs in the United States who accused them of conspiring to fix the prices of farmed salmon they sold in the U.S.
“While all Defendants reject that there is any basis for the claims and consider the complaints to be entirely unsubstantiated, all Defendants in the US class action related to the direct purchaser case have now, following a mandatory mediation procedure, accepted a settlement offer from the direct purchaser plaintiffs subject to approval by the court of Southern District of Florida,” the five seafood companies said in a joint press release.
The companies “expressly reject the allegations regarding anti-competitive behavior and strongly believe that the antitrust claims lack merit,” they said.
Nonetheless, they decided to settle “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.”
The lawsuit, filed in April 2019, alleges the companies – all major players in Norway’s farmed salmon industry – exchanged competitively sensitive information among themselves, with the aim of artificially controlling the price of farm-raised salmon bought by U.S. seafood buyers, a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
The lawsuit is largely based on an ongoing investigation by the European Commission into “suspected anti-competitive practices” in the farmed Atlantic salmon sector in Europe, first made public in February 2019. The investigation included raids by E.C. officials of the Scottish and Dutch corporate offices of Mowi, Grieg Seafood, Lerøy Seafood, and SalMar.
A separate investigation has also been launched into the matter by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which has issued subpoenas to several of the Norwegian salmon companies involved in the suit.
The conspiracy affected hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars’ worth of salmon, the suit alleges.
In March 2021, several separate civil suits were consolidated into one and placed under the oversight of Judge Cecilia Altonaga of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Altonaga set a two-week trial date for the case beginning on 23 May, 2023, and ordered representatives for the plaintiffs and defendants into mediation.
Michael Lehmann, a partner with San Francisco, California, U.S.A.-based Hausfeld LLP, indicated in March 2021 his side was prepared to come to a settlement.
“A settlement that benefits and appropriately compensates our class and our clients is something that we would always consider,” he told SeafoodSource.
Lehmann alleged the Norwegian salmon firms “engaged in a successful strategy for manipulating prices upward” in the NASDAQ Salmon Index and the spot market in Europe, “thereby setting a floor on wholesale prices across the world, including in the U.S.”
“The identity of the committee-members that set the NASDAQ Salmon Index is a closely guarded secret that’s not made public or disseminated by NASDAQ. We only found out about the membership in the index as a result of documents produced to the U.S. Department of Justice and European Commission. That and other information contained in those court-ordered documents allowed us to bring that into our discussions,” he said.
Lehmann did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SeafoodSource on 25 May.
Representatives for Mowi and Grieg Seafood said they would have no comment beyond the joint press release.
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