Marks and Spencer has unveiled plans to encourage innovative fishing methods among Scottish fishermen with the aim of keeping up good stocks of Scottish haddock on its shelves.

M&S said its sales account for 14% of the annual Scottish haddock catch. But the retailer is worried that traditional nets can result in a bycatch of North Sea cod and juvenile haddock.

At present North Sea haddock is the only species that M&S stocks that has been pinpointed by the Marine Conservation Society as a fish that consumers should avoid.

An M&S project in partnership with supplier Cavaghan and Gray and supported by Seafood Scotland, Seafish and Scottish Enterprise, will involve placing observers on board fishing vessels over an 18-month period. The aim is to establish best practice for greater selectivity and handling methods.

M&S technical manager of agriculture and fish, Paul Willgoss, said the potential benefits of the conservation programme were very significant: “This is a major move in the fishing industry for many reasons. Scottish stocks will be preserved, and we hope others will emulate the M&S example.

“Secondly customer satisfaction will increase as only fish of a mature and consistent size will be presented for packaging, and thirdly we are confident this move will help to protect the livelihood of fishing communities in the north east of Scotland in the long term.