European Commission investigates Norwegian salmon sector

6 companies are under investigation for anti-competitive behavior in the European market for Atlantic salmon.

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After a preliminary review, the European Commission (EC) has found grounds for suspicion that six Norway-based producers of Atlantic salmon may have breached European Union (EU) antitrust regulations. The EC has raised concerns that the companies may have colluded to distort competition for Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon.

A statement of objection has been sent to the following firms: Bremnes, Cermaq, Grieg Seafood, Lerøy, Mowi and Salmar.

Competition is essential to ensure that consumers have access to food at affordable prices,” said Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president in charge of competition policy at the EC. “We are concerned that six salmon producers exchanged commercially sensitive information with the aim to limit competition on the market, to the detriment of European customers. The companies concerned now have the possibility to respond to our concerns.”

In its allegation, the EC raised concerns that commercially sensitive information may have been exchanged between the six companies between 2011 and 2019. The data includes that related to selling prices as well as capacity, production and sales volumes.

This could have been used by the firms to provide more certainty in the market, according to the EC. It alleges this applied to spot sales to the EU for fresh, whole and gutted Atlantic salmon produced in Norway.

Excluded from this investigation are long-term sales contracts, and other products such as frozen farmed salmon or processed products such as salmon fillets, loins or smoked salmon.

If the investigation confirms the EC’s suspicions, the companies would have infringed Article 101 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, which covers cartels and other restrictive practices.

Prior to and related to the latest allegations, the EC stated that its officials had carried out unannounced inspections of companies producing Atlantic salmon in several EU member states in February 2019. 

Salmon production in Norway

The ongoing investigations affect a significant proportion of the EU fish market.

Norway produces more than half of the global production of farmed Atlantic salmon, according to the EC, and the EU is the leading destination for its exports. Almost 80% of Norwegian production is in the form of the product group under investigation, namely fresh, whole and gutted Atlantic salmon.

Farming of salmon in the country began in the 1970s, according to the Norwegian Seafood Council.

In 2020, total production of farmed aquaculture animal by Norway amounted to 1.49 million metric tons, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Accounting for around 47% of the total output in this category in Europe, it will include relative small amounts of species other than Atlantic salmon.

In terms of global finfish volume by marine and coastal aquaculture, Norway was the second largest producer, not far behind the leader, China.

Three months ago, Mowi reported an explosion at one of its facilities in Norway. Just one silo was damaged, and there were no injuries. Production was up to full capacity again the next day. 

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