There are two species of seal in Irish waters - the Harbour or Common Seal and the more numerous Grey Seal. Both are protected under the EU Habitats Directive and Ireland is obliged to monitor their populations and report to the European Commission on their conservation status. A standardised monitoring programme has been in place for both species since 2009. The most recent report on their conservation status was submitted to the European Commission in June 2013 and is available on the website www.npws.ie.
As part of my Department's established seal monitoring programme, Grey Seal and Harbour Seal numbers have continued to be recorded around the country. The next conservation assessment of the status of both seal species is under preparation and is due for submission to the Commission in early 2019
Seals have a broad diet which varies depending on the species of seal, the geographic region and also the availability of fish and other prey. Studies of the interaction between seals and various commercial fisheries in Ireland are ongoing. This work by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Marine Institute and An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, towards which my Department provides technical and licensing input under relevant conservation legislation, includes the recording of seal depredation (damage to fish or removal of fish by seals during fishery operations) as part of the National At Sea Catch Sampling Programme. It also involves targeted regionally based studies concerning seal bycatch for example and the ongoing development of acoustic deterrence to mitigate seal fisheries interactions.
In relation to seal predation on salmonids, for example, a study published in 2014 by Inland Fisheries Ireland, focusing on two estuaries of significance for native salmon, found considerable differences in the amount of salmonids in the diet of locally occurring seals and concluded that the removal of salmonids by seals and other predators must be placed in the context of the amount removed by fisheries (see link).
All of these studies will continue to inform policy in relation to seal protection and meeting our obligations under the EU Habitats Directive.