Preliminary findings from a European Commission (EC) inquiry have found that major Norwegian seafood businesses breached EU anti-trust rules.

The EC has informed Cermaq, Grieg Seafood, Bremnes, Lerøy, Mowi and SalMar of its findings, in a statement of objections (SO) document. Mowi and Lerøy have already rejected the EC’s conclusions.

In a statement, the EC said its preliminary view is that the companies “breached EU anti-trust rules by colluding to distort competition in the market for spot sales of Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon in the EU”.

It went on: “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 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.”

Spot rates are those for which prices, volumes and other sales conditions are agreed per sale, based on market conditions on the day.

The EC said that if its preliminary view is confirmed, this conduct would infringe Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which prohibits cartels and other restrictive business practices.

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If, after objections have been heard, there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, the EC can adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and impose a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover.

Responding to the EC’s findings, Mowi said: “Mowi contests the Commission’s preliminary view and the characteristics of the alleged behaviour in the market for farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon and strongly believes there has been no infringement of the competition rules.

“Mowi will now carefully review the Commission’s statement and reply in writing, following standard process.”

Lerøy Seafood Group (LSG) said: “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.”

It added: “LSG has a right of response and will, after carefully reviewing the SO, provide its comments to the Commission.

“LSG has cooperated with the Commission throughout its investigation and will continue to work constructively with the Commission.”

Last January, Mowi revealed it is no longer being investigated by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) following a four-year old price-fixing probe.

It said it had been informed by the Antitrust Division of the DoJ that an open investigation into the company was no longer ongoing.

Norway accounts for over half of the production of farmed Atlantic salmon worldwide and the EU is its main importer.