US Justice Department closes investigation into salmon price-fixing allegations
Claims ‘clearly lacked merit and are entirely unsubstantiated’ says Mowi
The US Department of Justice has closed an investigation into alleged price fixing by Norwegian salmon farmers, the world’s biggest salmon producer, Mowi, said in a market announcement today.
“Mowi has been informed by the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice in the USA that they have no longer an open investigation into Mowi. Mowi has all along been adamant that the price collusion allegations have clearly lacked merit and are entirely unsubstantiated,” the company stated.
Mowi said there was no information regarding a price fixing investigation by the European Commission.
In November 2019, Mowi and other Norwegian salmon farmers SalMar, Lerøy, and Grieg received subpoenas from the US Department of Justice which was opening a criminal investigation into allegations of potential anti-competitive behaviour.
The US investigation followed raids by European Commission (EC) inspectors on Mowi, Grieg, and Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) premises in Scotland on 19 February, 2019. SSF is jointly owned by SalMar and Lerøy.
The EC officials were exploring potential anti-competitive behaviour in the salmon industry, although it appeared the real focus of their probe was Norway, not Scotland. EC inspectors do not have direct access to the salmon companies’ Norwegian offices because Norway is not an EU member state and does not come under the same EC jurisdiction that the UK – then a member of the EU - did at that time.
As well as prompting a criminal investigation in the US, the EC probe also triggered a class action by US fish buyers, beginning in April 2019.
In May last year, Mowi, Lerøy, SalMar, and Grieg, along with Norway-headquartered Cermaq, agreed to pay $85 million to end the three-year class action.
The farmers, and five other producers and/or sellers of Norwegian salmon, were defendants in the class action brought by Euclid Fish Company, Euro USA Inc., Schneider’s Fish and Sea Food Corporation, and The Fishing Line LLC, individually and “on behalf of all others similarly situated”.
In statements on 25 May 2022, the salmon farmers and other defendants said that while they all rejected that there was any basis for the claims and considered the complaints to be entirely unsubstantiated, they had, following a mandatory mediation procedure, accepted a settlement offer from the direct purchaser plaintiffs.
In its statement, Mowi said: “All defendants expressly reject the allegations regarding anti-competitive behaviour and strongly believe that the antitrust claims lack merit.
“Given that the costs of litigation in the US are substantial, coupled with the timeline for any litigation and required engagement of extensive internal resources, Mowi ASA has nonetheless agreed to a settlement for pure commercial purposes. The settlement does not involve any admission of liability or wrongdoing.”