A Belfast-based maker of smoked salmon products is being sued along with its parent company by a consumer who says the companies’ claims that their fish are farmed “sustainably” are false and misleading.

The lawsuit against Ducktrap River of Maine that was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine by New York resident Abigail Starr alleges that the salmon is “unsustainably raised” using “industrial farming practices” that threaten the environment. The claim of sustainable sourcing on Ducktrap River’s packaging is misleading to consumers, the lawsuit says.

Ducktrap River is owned by Mowi ASA, a Norwegian company, and operates under a U.S. subsidiary. In addition to its salmon, Ducktrap River also produces smoked mackerel, trout and whitefish.

Don Cynewski, Ducktrap River’s general manager, said Monday that he was aware of the lawsuit and had no comment.

The lawyers who filed the lawsuit are seeking class-action status, meaning they could represent thousands of consumers, not just the woman who is the lead plaintiff. That means if the suit is successful, the potential damages are much greater than they would be for an individual.

The lawsuit doesn’t specify damages on most of the allegations, saying it would be up for the court to determine. However, on one count, the suit said Ducktrap River and Mowi could face a fine of $50 for each sale, which could be increased substantially if the court finds that the practices were misleading and the companies acted “willfully.”

The suit also accuses the companies of violating consumer protection laws in most states, including Maine, and seeks additional damages based on that allegation.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, Mowi is the largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, has more than 14,000 employees, sells fish to about 70 countries and had revenue of more than 4.1 billion Euros (roughly $4.7 billion) in 2019.

Farmed salmon, the lawsuit says, are raised in crowded and unhealthy conditions, which can lead to the development of diseases and parasitic infections.

Mowi owns fish farms in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Canada and Chile, according to the lawsuit.

“Industrial salmon farming poses grave risks to the environment, animal welfare and public health,” the lawsuit says. “Because the marine pens are connected directly to the ocean environment, outbreaks can endanger surrounding ecosystems.”

Mowi’s practices also “inflict unnecessary suffering on its salmon, and its facilities have been rated by animal charities as some of the industry’s worst due to mortality rates, parasite infestations, stress levels, and overstocking,” the lawsuit says. “Thus, Mowi’s marketing of the products as ‘sustainably sourced’ is false, deceptive, and misleading.”

The suit also alleges that consumers can’t be expected to know the background of the salmon they purchase and that they rely on statements that the products are “sustainably sourced,” as Ducktrap River proclaims on its smoked salmon packaging.

The lawyers who filed the lawsuit didn’t respond Monday to an email seeking more information about their client and some of the details in the lawsuit.


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