Norway's Stolt-Nielsen and Dutch company Nutreco Holding have announced the completion of due diligence and the signing of a contribution agreement in connection with previously announced plans to merge the fish-farming operations of the two companies.

The contribution agreement provides for the transfer of the relevant operations of Stolt Sea Farm and Nutreco Aquaculture into Marine Harvest, the joint venture unveiled by the two companies in September this year.

Marine Harvest is set to become the world's largest aquaculture company, with estimated annual sales of around €850m (US$1.14bn) in salmon, salmon trout and other farmed fish and a large product portfolio including species such as cod, halibut, sturgeon, tilapia, barramundi and yellowtail.

Nutreco will hold a 75% stake and Stolt-Nielsen 25% in Marine Harvest. The transaction is expected to be completed in the first half of 2005.