Salmon price-fixing case heads back to court

The latest chapter in a tale of alleged price fixing that began with raids on the Scottish offices of Norwegian salmon farmers more than two years ago was due to be written in a courtroom in the United States today.

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Grieg Seafood Shetland, Mowi Scotland and Scottish Sea Farms – which is owned by Norwegian companies SalMar and Lerøy - were subject to unannounced inspections by European Commission (EC) officials on February 19, 2019. The EC, which is the executive arm of the European Union, was investigating potential anti-competitive behaviour in the salmon industry.

The UK offices were chosen as a ‘back door’ into the companies, as the EC did not have the power to make inspections in Norway, which was not in the EU.

Class action

The EC’s investigation prompted both a criminal investigation by the US Department of Justice and a class action by salmon buyers in the US, with the latest hearing in that case due today. Mowi, Grieg, Lerøy, SalMar and Cermaq are defendants in the case, along with marketing companies Ocean Quality North America Inc and Sjór AS.

The buyers accuse the fish farmers and their affiliates of conspiring to fix prices on Atlantic salmon they grew for sale in the US. They alleged that the scheme has been ongoing since 2013.

US Magistrate Judge Lauren Fleischer Louis was today due to hold a discovery hearing that will specifically address discovery disputes concerning the plaintiffs’ bid for documents from the defendants, including records related to the EC’s ongoing cartel investigation into companies farming Atlantic salmon, reported US legal news website Law360.

Won’t release records

The US fish buyers have rebutted a request by the EC to participate in the hearing because the EC won’t release records related to its own ongoing investigation into the alleged price-fixing cartel.

The EC told Louis in an amicus brief – a written submission by someone who is not party to a case - that the investigatory materials are too sensitive to be disclosed in this case. Doing so would undermine the ability of the European Union as a sovereign to probe and deter unlawful cartel activities, according to the brief.

All the companies accused deny any wrongdoing.