UK class action seeking £382m from leading salmon farmers

Fresh Norwegian salmon on ice ready for sale

A group representing British consumers is pressing ahead with a claim for compensation from Norwegian salmon farmers over alleged price fixing – and it has put a figure on it.

The figures sought on behalf of UK shoppers is at least £382m (€450m) on the grounds that they have been overcharged by up to 20%.

The action is against some of the biggest names in salmon farming including Mowi, SalMar, LerøyScottish Sea Farms and Grieg.

The claim was lodged at the weekend by Waterside Class Ltd, a company established to pursue the claim.  Waterside said the action was being brought on behalf of millions of UK consumers.

It said the defendants unlawfully colluded to increase global prices for farmed Atlantic salmon, leading to increases in the prices paid by consumers.

It is also being suggested that the alleged cartel’s behaviour drove farmed Atlantic salmon prices up to 20% higher than they otherwise would have been, much of which was passed on to consumers.

According to the claim, the salmon companies participated in co-ordinated transactions and unlawfully exchanged information to drive farmed Atlantic salmon prices up. All the companies involved have previously denied all such allegations.

The latest action, filed at the specialist UK Competition Appeal Tribunal, seeks redress of as much as £382m in compensation for consumers who bought certain farmed Atlantic salmon products from UK grocery retailers between October 2015 and May 2019.

‘Cartel’ allegations

According to Waterside, the six defendants worked together to increase the price of farmed Atlantic salmon through various methods, according to the claim. The defendants are accused of manipulating benchmark prices for Norwegian Atlantic salmon by using related entities to purchase salmon at inflated prices, and unlawfully exchanging commercially sensitive information about the price and volumes of sales of farmed Atlantic salmon. Senior executives at rival companies allegedly planned to rig prices via email correspondence, and at various meetings and “working dinners”. It is claimed that this was cartel behaviour and a breach of competition laws, which are designed to protect consumers.

According to the claim, this unlawful overcharging of consumers continued until 31 May 2019, shortly after the European Commission raided the offices of various Atlantic salmon farmers as part of a major investigation into price-fixing in February 2019. In January 2024, the Commission expressed its preliminary view that various Norwegian companies, including Mowi, SalMar, Lerøy and Grieg, colluded to fix short-term farmed Atlantic salmon prices in Europe between 2011 and 2019.

Waterside’s sole director and representative, Anne Heal, was previously the Director of Regulatory Affairs at BT. She has set up an advisory panel of experts to offer additional guidance and support during the proceedings:

  • Kate Wellington, former Lead Lawyer for Policy & Communications at the consumer champion group Which?;
  • Helen Charlton, the current Chair of the Financial Services Consumer Panel; and
  • Nicholas Spearing, an expert in competition law with more than 40 years of experience, and a former partner at law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP.

Waterside has instructed law firm Simmons & Simmons and barristers Sarah Abram KC, Matthew Kennedy (both of Brick Court Chambers) and Camilla Cockerill (of 4 New Square Chambers) to represent it.

Anne Heal

Anne Heal said: “This action claims that some of the Atlantic salmon farming industry’s biggest companies have conspired to raid the wallets of hard-working shoppers. This action aims to seek fair redress for the millions of British consumers who we say spent years overpaying for one of the UK’s favourite and highly nutritious foods.

“By bringing this collective action, I want to give a voice to affected consumers across the UK, and see them properly compensated for their losses. I also want to bring attention to market practices which harm consumers, and hold the defendant companies to account for their alleged wrongdoing.”

Meanwhile, UK retailers themselves are also pressing a claim for compensation over what they say is the cost them of collusion between the salmon producers.

A broadly similar claim is also being pursued by the European Commission, but price fixing allegations in the United States and Canada were settled out of court last year.

The companies concerned have strenuously denied allegations of price fixing in both the EU and North America, saying they only settled the US and Canadian cases to avoid lengthy and potentially costly legal action.

The Norwegian companies have yet to respond to the weekend action by Waterside Class Ltd.

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