Salmon farmers inspected in European Commission probe

Norwegian-owned salmon farmers Grieg Seafood Shetland, Mowi Scotland and Scottish Sea Farms were today subject to unannounced inspections by European Commission (EC) officials exploring potential anti-competitive behaviour in the salmon industry. 

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The premises of salmon farmers in other European Union countries were also visited by EC inspectors.

However, it appears the EC’s real targets may be in Norway. Undercurrent News reported that letters were sent to some companies earlier this month to notify them them that there be inspections in February.

The letter said the EC had received information ‘alleging that some Norwegian producers of farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon’ had participated in ‘anti-competitive agreements’.

Norway is not in the EU member state and as an EEA (European Economic Area) country is not under the same EU jurisdiction as the UK.

Antitrust rules

An EC statement said: “The European Commission can confirm that on 19 February 2019 its officials carried out unannounced inspections in several Member States at the premises of several companies in the sector of farmed Atlantic salmon.

“The Commission has concerns that the inspected companies may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.

‘Preliminary investigatory step’

“Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

“The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

“There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.”

Open and transparent

Grieg Seafood said it aims to be open, transparent and forthcoming and will provide all necessary information requested by the European Commission DG Competition in its investigation.

A spokesperson for Scottish Sea Farms said: “We can confirm that we, like other Norwegian-owned companies in Scotland, have been visited by EC officials and are cooperating fully.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) referred questions to the EC.