Unilever floats big victory for small fish

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In a major victory for conservationists, one of the world's largest multi- nationals is to boycott the industrial fishing which is putting the North Sea eco-system in jeopardy.

Unilever announced yesterday that within a year it would stop using all oils derived from industrial fishing in European waters. This covers more than one million tons of small fish at the base of the food chain each year and is unregulated by the EU's common fisheries policy (CFP).

The Anglo Dutch company, which owns Bird's Eye, said it accepted this catch of sprat, whiting, pout and sand eels was destructive. Unilever uses 100,000 tons of fish oil a year, a quarter from the catch in European waters, for products as diverse as cosmetics and cakes.

These small fish are an important food source for sea birds, seals and porpoises, and also for larger fish caught by Europe's fishing fleets. Scientists agree that cod and haddock have been overfished for years in the North Sea, and there is a risk of the stocks collapsing. Denmark, Norway and Iceland account for the majority of industrial fishing off Europe, with Britain fourth. Unilever's announcement came as EU fisheries ministers met in Brussels yesterday to discuss fish quotas.

Britain's fisheries minister, Tony Baldry, also launched a campaign to return Britain's fishing waters to the United Kingdom fleet.

He warned that the CFP could regain credibility only if it clamped down on "quota-hoppers" who plunder another nation's EU fish catch allocation - with the blessing of Brussels. The move follows the Government's legal defeat at the hands of the Spanish trawler fleet.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that one country cannot stop trawlers from another member state sharing its quota. Now claims worth about pounds 30m are in the pipeline from Spanish boat owners who were excluded from UK waters.