Supermarkets launch multi-million pound lawsuit against six major salmon firms over claims of price-fixing which saw shoppers overcharged

By Sean Poulter Consumer Affairs Editor

19:43 01 Mar 2024, updated 19:51 01 Mar 2024

  • Six major firms are believed to have broken competition law by colluding

Supermarkets have launched a multi-million pound lawsuit over allegations of price-fixing on salmon which saw shoppers overcharged for years.

The legal action involves six major salmon farming businesses and relates to fish farms operating off the coast of Scotland and Norway.

They supply the biggest UK supermarkets with the nation’s favourite fish with sales running at £1.25 billion a year.

The European Commission has put the firms on notice that they are believed to have broken competition law by colluding and sharing price information.

The effect was to push up the prices charged to millions of customers across the UK, the EU and around the world between 2011 and 2019.

If the Commission brings a successful court case, which is due to take place later this year, the total fine could run to more than £1 billion.

Pictured is Grieg seafood’s HQ in Bergen, Norway, one of the businesses involved in the claims
Lerøy and is the exclusive supplier to Marks & Spencer, and is included in the legal action

It would also open the door to legal action from British supermarkets, catering companies and restaurant chains who were effectively overcharged.

The names of the supermarkets taking the legal claim against the salmon firms have not been revealed however Tesco and Sainsbury’s say they are not involved.

Andrew Opie, the Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘Retailers are committed to delivering the best price for their customers, and the industry is following the outcome of this court case closely.’

Don Staniford, the director of Scamon Scotland, which campaigns against salmon cage farming, said the legal case turns a spotlight on what is a ‘fishy cartel’.

He said: ‘Salmon no longer leaps up waterfalls onto your plates.

‘All Scottish salmon is farmed in factory cages owned by multinationals who are like the McDonald’s of the sea.

‘The EC’s price-fixing investigation has lifted the lid on a fishy cartel which has conspired to dupe both supermarkets and consumers.

‘The Salmafia must be held to account and exposed as a sham, scam and consumer con.’

Some of the evidence for the case was gathered by EU anti-cartel investigators in raids on salmon farming businesses in February 2019.

These included offices owned by Mowi, formerly Marine Harvest, in Rosyth, Fife; a salmon farm operated by Grieg in Shetland; and a Scottish Sea Farms site, which is jointly owned by SalMar and Lerøy and is the exclusive supplier to Marks & Spencer.

Some of the evidence for the case was gathered by EU anti-cartel investigators in raids on salmon farming businesses in February 2019. File picture

In January this year, the European Commission issued a preliminary ruling that the six Norwegian-owned producers – Mowi, Grieg, SalMar, Leroy, Cermaq and Bremnes – had breached antitrust rules by colluding on the sale of Atlantic salmon.

In May last year, several of the companies – Mowi, Grieg, Lerøy, SalMar, and Cermaq – agreed to pay £67.2m ($85m) to end a three-year class action by customers in the USA over the same price fixing claims.

And in December, companies at the centre of the allegations agreed to pay £2.9m ($5m) to their customers, including retailers, in Canada.

There is no mechanism to ensure shoppers who were overcharged receive any recompense. However, in Canada, the settlement included an agreement to pay £145,000 ($250,000) to food banks by way of reparations.

All of these payments were made without any admission of illegal behaviour and the firms continue to deny any wrongdoing. The companies claim they settled the cases on the other side of the Atlantic to avoid lengthy and costly legal action.

Leroy Seafood Group revealed the legal claim by UK supermarkets in its its fourth-quarter report published on Wednesday. The firm said that it ‘strongly rejects’ the claims and considered them to be ‘baseless’.

Grieg Seafood also admitted that a group of unnamed UK supermarkets had filed for damages ‘arising from alleged unlawful cartel arrangements in relation to the supply of farmed Atlantic salmon’. The company also denied any anti-competitive conduct.

The other companies have also rejected the European Commission allegations. Mowi said it ‘strongly believes there has been no infringement of the competition rules’.

SalMar said it had co-operated with the Commission throughout and strongly disagrees with its preliminary assessment of illegality. Similar statements and denials have been issued by Cermaq and Bremnes.

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