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Go fish: Cartel firm coughs up R34m in price-fixing deal

The outrage that greeted the prosecution of the bread cartel in South Africa reached a fever pitch so the news that many of the same companies now stand accused of running a pelagic fish cartel is likely to have South African consumers livid.

Pelagic fish includes three species: anchovy, pilchards and red eye.

Tiger Brands and Foodcorp were implicated in the bread cartel and have also been implicated in the fishing cartel.

However the Oceana Group, Premier Fishing SA, Pioneer Fishing, Gansbaai Marine, Terressan Pelagic Fishing, Paternoster Vissery, Saladanha Foods and Sea Harvest also stand accused of participating in collusive activity and violating the Competition Act.

This week the Competition Commission announced that it had reached a settlement with the Oceana Group and its subsidiary Oceana Brands, who had admitted to price-fixing, information sharing, market division, customer allocation and even drafting a contract that had a non-compete clause in it.

Oceana has implicated a number of the above-mentioned fishing companies in several of these anti-competitive practices too.

Attempts to get comment from the fishing companies alleged to have participated in the collusive activity on Tuesday were mostly unsuccessful.

Andre Coetzee, managing director of Gansbaai Marine, did state that he had no comment because he was not aware that Oceana had reached a settlement.

The Oceana Group major shareholders are Tiger Brands (37.6%), the Khula Trust (11.9%), Brimstone Investment Corporation  (9.7%).

Sea Harvest, another major fishing company, also has Tiger Brands and Brimstone Investment Corporation as shareholders.

According to the commission’s press statement, both Tiger Brands and Brimstone are “signatories” to a shareholders agreement with Sea Harvest, which contained a “non-compete clause”.

“The commission concluded that the shareholders agreement prevented Sea Harvest and Oceana from competing in the hake and pelagic fish markets, respectively, between 2000 and 2008,” it said.

Oceana has agreed to pay a penalty of just less than R34.8-million, which represents 5% of its turnover derived from its pelagic fish operations in South Africa in 2010.

This settlement still has to be confirmed by the Competition Tribunal.

The Commission launched its investigation into the pelagic fishing sector in July 2008.

While it was busy investigating Pioneer Fishing applied for and was granted conditional leniency in exchange for snitching on its fellow colluders.

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Lloyd Gedye
Lloyd Gedye
Lloyd Gedye is a freelance journalist and one of the founders of The Con.

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