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Atlantic Salmon Producers Netted by DOJ

Lori Lustrin & Scott N. Wagner

This month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opened a criminal investigation into collusive behavior among some of the largest producers of Atlantic salmon.  This inquiry follows the DOJ’s June announcement of its separate investigation into the chicken industry.

Atlantic salmon producers implicated by the investigation include Grieg SeafoodSalMar, Leroy Seafood Group, and Mowi.  The launch of the U.S. inquiry comes on the heels of the European Commission’s (EC) announcement of an investigation into the Atlantic salmon industry following a series of raids at the facilities of several prominent producers. The EC stated it had “concerns that the inspected companies may have violated E.U. antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.”

These same salmon producers are defending class action complaints–one filed in the Southern District of Florida and another in the District of Maine—by commercial and institutional purchasers (i.e., restaurants) claiming they were charged artificially inflated prices for salmon.

​While the DOJ and EC investigations are in their early stages, the class action complaints provide additional color.  Plaintiffs in In Re Farm-Raised Salmon and Salmon Products Antitrust Litigation, No. 1:19-cv-21551-CMA (S.D. Fla. Aug. 19, 2019) allege that the defendants engaged in “openly collusive behavior” in the coordinated use of subsidiaries to drive up the price of the Oslo, Norway spot market—“the most important benchmark for salmon prices across the globe”—as well as tacit agreements to cooperate rather than compete.

Salmon now marks the latest food in a long line of protein staples to become the subject of antitrust concerns.  Recent federal class action cases alleging price-fixing conspiracies involving producers of chicken, beef, pork, and tuna remain ongoing.

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