Scottish fish farms raided in EU salmon cartel probe

The raids were authorised by the European Commission.
The raids were authorised by the European Commission.

Several salmon farms in Scotland have been raided as part of an EU-wide investigation into alleged illegal cartels.

Officials from the European Commission (EC) visited offices in Shetland, Stirling and Fife on Tuesday over concerns companies may have breached EU rules on anti-competitive practices.

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Scottish sites involved include Grieg Seafood in Lerwick, Scottish Sea Farms in Stirling and the recently rebranded Mowi – formerly Marine Harvest – in Rosyth.

The EC has said the inquiry is at a preliminary stage, but it’s understood the focus is on Norwegian-owned farms.

An EC statement said: “The EC can confirm that on February 19 its officials carried out unannounced inspections in several member states at the premises of several companies in the sector of farmed Atlantic salmon.

“The Commission has concerns that the inspected companies may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.

“The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.

“The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

“The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in anti-trust proceedings.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said the body was aware of the inspections .

She added: “We understand the focus of the investigation is another jurisdiction, not Scotland. The companies concerned are co-operating fully with the investigatory authorities and all further inquiries should be referred to the EC.”

The firms involved have issued statements in response to the visits from investigators, saying they would co-operate fully with the probe.

The EC has not previously investigated the salmon farming sector for cartel-related activity, but fined four European North Sea shrimp traders £25 million in 2013 for operating a cartel in breach of anti-trust rules.

If found guilty of violating regulations, the salmon companies could face penalties of up to 10 per cent of their global turnover – totalling around £650m.