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NMa Fines Shrimp Wholesalers and Shrimp Fishery Industry Due to Price Agreements

The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has imposed fines totalling EUR 13.781 million on eight wholesale traders in shrimps, united in Vereniging ter Bevordering van de Garnalenhandel (VEBEGA), and four Dutch, three German and one Danish producer organisation in the shrimp fishery industry [Association for the Promotion of the Shrimp Trade], for infringements of the European and Dutch prohibition on cartels. NMa has established that the producer organisations and the wholesale traders entered into agreements with each other to limit the size of the catch of North-Sea shrimps and with regard to minimum prices. These agreements were also implemented. Consequently the normal operation of the market was deliberately distorted, as a result of which the price of North-Sea shrimps was kept artificially high. These agreements related to the period from the end of 1997 until, in any event, mid-December 2000. In addition, Dutch wholesale traders and producer organisations of shrimp entered into agreements in the second half of 1999 which seriously obstructed the entry of a new wholesaler.

This is the first time that NMa has imposed a fine for an infringement of European competition rules. The fine for the parties involved is limited to the effect that their behaviour had on the Dutch part of the market. The fine per wholesaler and per producer organisation, in order of the amount of the fine, is: Heiploeg B.V. EUR 5,090,000, Klaas Puul & Zoon B.V. EUR 2,090,000, Goldfish B.V. EUR 1,236,000, the producer organisation Vissersbond EUR 909,000, the German association of producers organisations Schleswig-Holstein EUR 826,000, Van Belzen B.V. EUR 782,000, the German producer organisation Weser-Ems EUR 737,000, the producer organisation Wieringen EUR 522,000, the producer organisation West EUR 396,000, the Danish producer organisation Danske Fiskeres EUR 365,000, L. Kok International Sea Food B.V. EUR 222,000, the German producer organisation Elbe-Weser EUR 206,000, Lou Snoek Volendam B.V. EUR 184,000, Mooijer Volendam B.V. EUR 100,000, Matthijs Jansen B.V. EUR 68,000 and the producer organisation Texel EUR 48,000.

This decision to impose a fine confirms NMa's suspicions which were set out earlier in a report. The parties involved subsequently gave their opinions on this report. The investigation was prompted, for instance, by reports in the media that VEBEGA and Dutch, German and Danish producer organisations had entered into agreements with each other regarding the catch and the procurement of North-Sea shrimp's, also known as Dutch shrimps [‘Hollandse garnalen'] or grey shrimps. This occurred during the so-called Trilateral Consultation, a regular consultation between Dutch, German and Danish producer organisations in the shrimp fishery industry, in which the wholesalers united in VEBEGA were also involved. During this consultation, agreements were made with regard to maximum catches per period per fishing vessel and the minimum price to be taken into account in this regard.

The majority of Dutch, German and Danish shrimp fisheries are affiliated to one of the producer organisations. The total turnover of North-Sea shrimps amounted to EUR 75 million in 1999. The wholesalers affiliated to VEBEGA purchase the largest share of shrimps sold via the producer organisations. Heiploeg and Klaas Puul, in particular, are active throughout Europe.

In addition, in the second half of 1999 Dutch wholesalers and producer organisations entered into agreements to exclude a new wholesaler from the fish auction. This infringement of the Competition Act resulted in any increase in the fines imposed on these parties.