On 27 November 2013 the European Commission announced that it has found four North Sea shrimp traders guilty of operating an illegal price fixing cartel. Such a cartel is in breach of European law prohibiting anti-competitive behaviour. The Commission has imposed fines totalling €28 million on three of the companies, with one company receiving full immunity having brought the cartel to the Commission’s attention.

The companies involved were Heiploeg, Klaas Puul, Kok Seafood (all of the Netherlands) and Stührk (of Germany).

Decision

The Commission found that the purpose of the cartel was to freeze the market by stabilising the suppliers' market shares in order to facilitate price increases and stimulate profitability. The cartel operated from June 2000 until January 2009.

The cartel discussions usually covered a wide range of aspects of the traders' businesses. This included their purchase prices from fishermen, conduct towards other traders on the market, market sharing, and prices charged to specific important customers that often set the benchmark price for other customers.

Comment

The food sector has been identified as a priority sector for both EU Member State competition authorities and the Commission in order to ensure that food markets work for suppliers and consumers.

The cartel primarily affected sales in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands in particular. The Commission has stated that any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages.