The European Commission has informed six Norwegian salmon producers - Cermaq, Grieg Seafood, Bremnes, Lerøy Seafood, Mowi, and SalMar - of its suspicion that they may have violated EU antitrust rules.
The suspected breach involves the exchange of commercially sensitive information about prices and volumes between 2011 and 2019, which could have reduced market uncertainty.
Announcing the investigation on its website, the European Commision gave details of its suspicions:
"The Commission has concerns that, between 2011 and 2019, the six salmon producers, exchanged commercially sensitive information, relating to sales prices, available volumes, sales volumes, production volumes and production capacities, as well as other price-setting factors."
The Commission said the suspected aim of this alleged conduct was to reduce normal uncertainty in the market for spot sales of Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon into the EU.
"The alleged anticompetitive conduct only concerns sales on the spot market into the EU, as opposed to sales based on long-term contracts," the Commission said, explaining that spot sales are those for which prices, volumes and other sales conditions are agreed per sale, based on the market conditions on the day of the sale.
Norway, which is responsible for over half of the global production of farmed Atlantic salmon, mainly exports to the EU.
The Commission said that information received from several market players led it to carry out inspections in February 2019 as part of a so-called ‘ex-officio' investigation.
This involved raids on several salmon facilities across the European Union in February 2019.
The EU investigation focuses specifically on sales of fresh, whole, and gutted Atlantic salmon farmed in Norway, which represents nearly 80% of its farmed Atlantic salmon exports.
However, the investigation does not include frozen farmed Atlantic salmon or processed products like salmon fillets, loins, or smoked salmon.
The European Commission's statement of objections to these companies is a formal step in the investigation but does not predetermine its outcome, the Commission noted in its announcement.
However, the Commission said, "If the Commission's preliminary view is confirmed, this conduct would infringe Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU'), which prohibits cartels and other restrictive business practices."
At the time of reporting, Mowi, Grieg Seafood and Lerøy Seafood Group have publicly responded to the allegations, and deny any wrongdoing.
"Grieg Seafood will examine the Statement of Objections carefully and continue to fully cooperate with the Commission’s investigation," Grieg Seafood said in a statement.
"Grieg Seafood ASA denies any anti-trust infringements or anti-competitive behavior by it or any of its subsidiaries. The Company will exercise all its rights of defence."
Meanwhile, Lerøy Seafood Group also denies it did anything wrong.
"LSG strongly rejects the Commission's allegations. LSG is dedicated to ensuring compliance with relevant competition law and always competes vigorously to offer customers the best products and terms," Leroy Seafood Group said in a press release.
"It is standard practice that these investigations last several years. It is not possible at this stage to make any statement on whether the case will result in sanctions or other negative consequences for LSG, or when the case will end. As this is an ongoing investigation it is not possible for LSG to provide any further comment."
Mowi also said it contests the commission's preliminary view, as well as the characteristics of the behaviour in focus by the investigation. It added that it would send a reply to the statement after a careful review.