UPDATE 1-Norway takes control at Cermaq after Marine Harvest retreat

Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:05am EDT

* State stake raised to above 59 pct

* Shareholders still to vote on sale of fish feed arm (Updates size of state stake, background, share prices)

By Gwladys Fouche and Victoria Klesty

OSLO, June 25 (Reuters) - The Norwegian state has spent 1.56 billion crowns ($254 million) on increasing its stake in fish farmer Cermaq to nearly 60 percent, just days after fending off a $1.7-billion hostile bid by its bigger local rival Marine Harvest.

Norway bought a total of 14.46 million shares at 108 crowns per share, lifting its stake to 59.17 percent from 43.5 percent, it said in a statement.

On Friday Marine Harvest, controlled by the country's estranged shipping tycoon John Fredriksen, dropped its cash-and shares offer worth around 104 crowns per share, after failing to win acceptances from the minimum 33.4 percent of shareholders which it required.

It also said it had sold 3.33 million shares in Cermaq at an average price of 105.33 crowns, leaving it with a stake of 1.84 percent.

Two weeks ago the country's trade and industry minister sought parliament's authority to either raise the state's stake to up to 65 percent or cut it to zero as it considered the bid by Marine Harvest.

Meanwhile Cermaq still has plans hatched during the bid battle to sell its biggest unit, the EWOS fishmeal business, to private equity firms Bain and Altor for $1.1 billion, subject to shareholder approval at a July 11 meeting.

Marine Harvest, already the world's biggest fish farmer, wanted to buy Cermaq to consolidate the Norwegian industry as global demand rises, but ran into stiff opposition, particularly from the Norwegian state.

Oslo-born Fredriksen, estimated to be worth over $11 billion by Forbes magazine, has long antagonised the authorities in his home country, especially since he gave up his Norwegian citizenship for a Cypriot passport to escape high taxes.

Last year Fredriksen announced plans to move the management of his oil drilling company Seadrill out of Norway, further raising tensions with the centre-left government

Shares in Cermaq were trading up 1.95 percent at 104.50 crowns on Tuesday, while shares in Marine Harvest were up 2 percent at 5.87 crowns. ($1=6.1454 Norwegian crowns) (Editing by Greg Mahlich)

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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