August 23, 2019
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Lawsuit from NY restaurant accuses salmon farmers of price fixing

Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Ducktrap River of Maine is among 16 defendants named in a lawsuit filed on May 9, 2019 in federal court. The suit allegies price fixing by producers of farmed salmon. In this October 4, 2018, photo taken at the company's headquarters in Belfast, General Manager Don Cynewski pulls out a tray of cold-smoked Chilean farm-raised salmon. The company marked its 40th year of smoking fish on the Maine coast with a $5 million expansion that will increase its production capacity by 75 percent. With 160 workers, its one of the city's largest employers.

A steakhouse in western New York filed a 75-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maine on Thursday against 15 producers of farmed salmon, including Ducktrap River of Maine in Belfast.

Prime Steakhouse of Falconer, New York, is seeking class action status for the lawsuit and a jury trial. The restaurant alleges the 15 companies competed unfairly on price and were unjustly enriched since July 1, 2015.

“Plaintiff Prime Steakhouse alleges that it was overcharged on purchases of farm-raised salmon products as the result of a price-fixing conspiracy that was global in reach, and seeks redress on behalf of a class primarily composed of small- and medium-sized businesses,” said Blaine Finley, an associate at Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP, of Washington, D.C., which is handling the case.

The lawsuit is seeking damages to the maximum extent in each state listed in the suit, plus restitution and a loss of profits that the 15 companies are alleged to have obtained unlawfully.

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The lawsuit is based largely on European Commission investigations of unexplained price increases in the salmon market.

In the filing, Prime Steakhouse cited a European Commission investigation started in early February 2019 with a letter to the world’s dominant suppliers of farm-raised salmon and their affiliates.

The letter said the European Commission had received information that the companies named as defendants in the lawsuit are participating in or have participated in anti-competitive agreements, concerted practices or both to coordinate prices for Norwegian salmon.

Ducktrap sells both farmed and wild-caught salmon. According to its website, it sources most of its salmon from its own farms in Scotland, Norway, Iceland and Chile.

A Ducktrap executive was not immediately available for comment.

[How a Belfast company became one of the nation’s biggest smoked salmon producers]

The New York restaurant’s website menu lists only one grilled salmon dish. The source of the salmon and whether it is farmed or wild-caught is not evident from the menu.

A source knowledgeable with the lawsuit said it was filed in Maine because most of the other producers are located overseas.

Maine is one of the largest producers of farmed Atlantic salmon in the United States, according to National Geographic. However, this country isn’t a big player in the international market for the fish.

Farming salmon remains controversial in the state. Nordic Aquafarms of Norway hopes to build a large salmon farming operation in Belfast that could produce tens of millions of pounds of fish annually. The company has been meeting with Belfast residents as it works to get key state permits to move its project forward. Nordic is not part of the lawsuit.

The other defendants are Mowi ASA (formerly known as Marine Harvest ASA), Marine Harvest USA, Marine Harvest Canada Inc., Grieg

Seafood ASA, Grieg Seafood BC Ltd., Bremnes Seashore AS, Ocean Quality AS, Ocean Quality North America Inc., Ocean Quality USA Inc., Ocean Quality Premium Brands Inc., SalMar ASA, Leroy Seafood Group ASA, Leroy Seafood USA Inc. and Scottish Sea Farms Ltd.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect total for the number of defendants.


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