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 maintain their numbers at a favourable conservation level. We are also required 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 April 2019 and is available on the NPWS website (www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/NPWS_2019_Vol3_Species_Article17.pdf).
Generally grey seal surveys are conducted during the autumn pupping period. The 2019 grey seal pupping season has commenced and my Department is currently conducting surveys along with the assistance of the Air Corps.
Last February representatives of my Department's National Parks and Wildlife Service met in Killarney with fishermen and representatives of the commercial fishing industry. The detailed discussions covered a broad range of issues including current inshore fishing practices and trends, seal predation on fish, seal behaviour and numbers, as well as the by-catch of seals in fishing gear and the management of seal-fishery interactions.
At the meeting, NPWS undertook to further investigate solutions for deterring seal interactions with static fishing gears and to continue their collaboration with the Marine Institute and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to investigate such problems and their solutions in partnership with the fishing industry. These investigations are on-going with the relevant Departments and agencies.
While seals are a protected species, my Department may issue licenses to cull individual problem seals, and affected persons can apply for such licenses. My Department has no plans to undertake a general cull of seals.