Between June 2000 and January 2009 Heiploeg and Klaas Puul agreed to fix prices and share sales volumes of North Sea shrimps in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Kok Seafood participated at least from February 2005 and Stührk was involved in price fixing in Germany in the period from March 2003 to November 2007. Klaas Puul received full immunity from fines under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice, as it was the first to provide information about the cartel.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "This cartel undermined competition in the market for North Sea shrimps for several years, a market important for consumers in several EU countries. It is astonishing to see in what kind of detail North Sea shrimps traders in their frequent contacts with each other discussed commercially sensitive information concerning their business. And it is even more astonishing taking into account that the sector had already received a clear warning via the previous conviction of some traders by the Dutch competition authority."
The coordinated price level at which the retailer bought their shrimps directly affected the prices charged to the end-consumers. The size of the market varies heavily from year to year depending on the volumes landed by the fishermen and the prices paid, but is always at least €100 million. The companies involved have high combined market shares in the European Economic Area (EEA), estimated to be around 80 per cent.
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 affected the EU market and sales in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands in particular.
The cartel took the form of a range of informal bilateral contacts primarily between Heiploeg and Klaas Puul but also involving Stührk and Kok Seafood. The discussions usually covered a wide range of aspects of their business, including 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.
The fines were set on the basis of the EU 2006 Guidelines on fines. The Commission took into account the companies' sales of the products concerned in the EU, the very serious nature of the infringement, its scope and its duration. For most of the parties to this case, North Sea shrimps constitute a large fraction of their turnover.
For this reason, the fines of all parties would have been capped at 10% of their total turnover, the legal maximum set out in the Antitrust Regulation. Exceptionally, therefore, the Commission exercised its discretion in accordance with point 37 of the Guidelines (see IP/06/857 and MEMO/06/256) and reduced the fines in a way that takes into account the characteristics of the companies and their differences in participation in the infringement. This leads to the fines on two of the companies being significantly below the legal maximum.
To read the individual fine breakdown, please click here.