Major Chilean salmon producers Camanchaca, Blumar and Australis are joining the lawsuit filed by the country's competition authorities (FNE) against three salmon feed producers over allegations of price collusion and fixing artificially high prices for feed.
If the feed companies – Skretting, BioMar and Salmofood -- are convicted, the salmon producers will demand millions in compensation for losses incurred due to overpricing.
All three feed companies flatly deny the allegations of price collusion and have complained to a higher court about fines that have already been imposed on each company.
Australis – which was acquired by Chinese giant Legend Holdings through its subsidiary Joyvio Group in 2018 -- was the first to join the lawsuit on July 9. It claims to have suffered damage from cartel activities and is demanding compensation, without specifying further.
On August 18, both the salmon producer Salmones Camanchaca and its parent company, Pesquera Camanchaca, announced that they too were joining the lawsuit.
In the court documents, seen by IntraFish, Camanchaca is also demanding compensation for losses incurred, without stating the amount. Salmones Camanchaca is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange.
Then on Sept. 21, salmon producer Salmones Blumar and its parent company, Blumar, which is one of the country's largest fishing groups, also filed a joint case alongside the competition authorities.
Blumar said it is a victim of"a competition-restricting agreement" between the feed companies, and claims it has paid too much for the salmon feed.
So far, the three feed companies have been fined a total of NOK 627 million (€57.4 million/$68 million).
Each of the companies must pay the highest fine allowed by Chile's competition law. No individuals in the companies are charged.
The allegations of collusion and cartel activity are alleged to have covered over a period of 12 years, from 2003 to 2015.
The three feed companies in the spotlight are Skretting, which is owned by the Dutch group Nutreco; BioMar, which is owned by the Danish group Schouw; and Salmofood, which is owned by the Chilean group Vitapro.
The case began in 2015 when fish feed producer Ewos was sold to the American food giant Cargill.
Local employees in Chile reported to the new owners about an extensive price collaboration that had lasted for several years.
Cargill went to the authorities who started an investigation, including searches and seizures at the three major feed manufacturers.
As the whistleblower of the case, Cargill was promised immunity from any fines and prosecution.
“Cargill operates in a lawful, ethical and responsible manner in all the countries in which we operate, and Chile is no exception,” Daniel Sullivan, the group’s spokesman at the US headquarters, told IntraFish.
“We have taken the necessary measures to report the matter to the authorities and address the internal problems.
“Since we as a company have done the right thing here, the company will not face further legal sanctions as a result of the case. We expect the case to follow the usual procedure with a final decision in the coming years.”
In February, all three of the fined feed companies denied they had committed illegalities, a stance which they all maintain.
“We maintain our position from when the case was initiated by FNE,” said Sif Rishoj, communications director for BioMar.
“Biomar Chile does not acknowledge the accusations of having participated in a cartel in the Chilean market from 2003 to 2015. Therefore, Biomar Chile has cooperated with the authorities and contributed information and insight.”
Skretting told IntraFish it submitted its defence statement in May 2020.
“After carefully reviewing the complaint, Skretting plans to combat the allegations made by FNE. Skretting will do anything to show that the statements are incorrect,” Julia Hart, communications director at the Dutch group, told IntraFish.
“We maintain, and are committed to, the highest standard when it comes to complying with laws and guidelines for competition and good business practice,” she said.
Salmofood has not yet responded to IntraFish's enquiry.
It is possible more salmon producers will join the competition authorities' lawsuit.
“In such cases, it is completely normal for customers to decide to participate,” said Rishoj. “They are a party to the case and it is their right to participate.”
Although slightly delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, usually such cases would take two to three years to complete in the court.
Meanwhile, the feed companies are still excluded from the trade association Salmon Chile.