Law360: Atlantic salmon farmers snagged in US cartel probe

Posted on November 20, 2019

By Matthew Perlman
Law360 (November 15, 2019, 5:53 PM EST) — Following raids from European enforcers earlier this year,
the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division has opened a criminal investigation into allegations of
collusion in the Atlantic salmon farming industry.

Norwegian producers of farmed salmon Grieg Seafood ASA, SalMar ASA, Lerøy Seafood Group ASA and
Mowi ASA all filed notices with the Oslo Stock Exchange on Thursday saying that they or their
subsidiaries had received subpoenas from the DOJ. The notices said the U.S. enforcement agency has
opened a criminal probe into the sector over allegations of cartel activity similar to allegations made by
the European Commission in February when it conducted unannounced inspections of several facilities.
There’s also a proposed class action pending in Florida federal court from U.S. distributors over the
salmon producers’ alleged conduct.

Kristina Furnes, global communications manager for Grieg Seafood, told Law360 on Friday that the
company’s Ocean Quality unit had received one of the subpoenas, but denied any allegations of collusion
in the industry.

“Grieg Seafood is not aware of any kind of practice that undermines competition in either the E.U. or the
U.S.,” Furnes said. “We are fully cooperating with the European Commission and will also cooperate with
the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The regulatory filings all say the investigations and proposed class action are without merit and that the
companies are cooperating with U.S. authorities. They also say there’s no new information about the
European investigation.

The European Commission conducted unannounced inspections at various facilities in Scotland and the
Netherlands in February, saying it had concerns about potential cartel activity. The commission said at
the time there was no deadline for its probe of the conduct and that the duration of its investigations
depends on the complexity of the case and the extent to which companies cooperate.

The agency did not disclose which companies were inspected, but several Norwegian producers revealed
their involvement through stock exchange filings shortly after the raids.

U.S.-based distributors and importers started filing lawsuits targeting salmon producers in April, alleging
they paid inflated prices for farmed Atlantic salmon because of the unlawful conspiracy. The cases were
consolidated in the Southern District of Florida in front of U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in May,
where Hausfeld LLP and Podhurst Orseck PA are leading the proposed class of direct purchasers.

An attorney for the proposed class, Peter Prieto of Podhurst Orseck, told Law360 on Friday that the DOJ
investigation into the alleged conduct could have implications for the private suit.

“The opening of a criminal investigation as to some of the defendants in our case is interesting if not
telling, because the Department of Justice Antitrust Division does not initiate criminal investigations
lightly,” Prieto said. “It also shows that the conduct we’ve alleged and that DOJ is investigating has
harmed consumers in the U.S.”

A representative for the DOJ declined comment Friday. Representatives for SalMar, Lerøy and Mowi did
not immediately respond to requests for comment.