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Animal Culls

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 23 September 2020

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Questions (82)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

82. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the steps that have been taken in the past six months to address the seal population problem here (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25859/20]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Both species of seal in Irish waters - the Harbour or Common Seal and the more numerous Grey Seal - 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 (https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/NPWS_2019_Vol3_Species_Article17.pdf).

The latest population estimates available to my Department indicate that there are approximately 8,000-10,000 grey seals and about 5,000 harbour seals in Ireland. These animals are spread around the Irish coast with the largest populations occurring along the west coast from the Blaskets in Co. Kerry to north Mayo and Donegal. Seals, and grey seals in particular, are wide ranging animals. The Irish animals are known to move between Scotland and north-west France. In turn, animals from the large seals populations in Scotland migrate into Irish waters to feed. There are over 100,000 grey seals in Scotland.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.

My Department has been in contact in the last year with fisherman interests from the south-west, including Dingle, on the question of seals. Five Section 42 license applications have been received to date this year. One of these - relating to an estuary in Sligo – was approved. One was refused as it related to the shooting of seals on the Blasket Islands, a Special Area of Conservation for seals. The remaining three applications were also from the South West – two in Kerry and one in Cork and involved shooting seals including from boats. There are concerns about this approach to seal management, given the potential safety concerns arising from using high-powered rifles on moving platforms. Nonetheless, my Department is examining the potential for a pilot scheme which would test this approach and determine its efficacy in protecting fishermen’s catches. A decision on the remaining licences has been delayed until this pilot scheme can be advanced. Plans to initiate this scheme earlier in the year had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

My Department is also in discussion with the Marine Institute on approaches to managing seal-fishery interactions, 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 will continue to investigate these issues and potential solutions in partnership with the fishing industry.

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