I propose to take Questions Nos. 320, 322, 329, 330 and 361 together.
Neither I nor my Department has any plans to undertake a cull of seals, nor would I agree to it.
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. Ireland is obliged to maintain their populations at favourable conservation status. We are also required to monitor these species and report to the European Commission on their conservation status. A standardised monitoring programme has been in place for both 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 ). Both species are assessed as being at favourable conservation status.
Section 42 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 (as amended) provides, inter alia, that where protected wild animals or birds are causing serious damage, persons affected may on application to the Minister seek a permission to take appropriate steps to mitigate the damage. A very small number of such applications in a given year will concern seal damage.
Applications are investigated by local staff to determine if serious damage is being caused and if so the most practical method of controlling the problem. Consideration of the license applications made under Section 42 includes reference to any conservation issues facing the protected species in question. Applications under this section normally involve very small numbers of animals and an environmental impact assessment is not required to issue licenses.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, will be writing to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Iascaigh Mhara to arrange a meeting to discuss seal conservation and problems for fishermen from seal damage on fishing nets.
Furthermore, I understand that the Irish Seal Group has been re-established and is to meet online in mid-October. The group includes the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department, the Irish Seal Sanctuary, the Irish South & West Fish Producer’s Organisation, the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, BIM and marine mammal researchers from UCC. It will be chaired by the Marine Institute.
The group's main focus will be to agree, where possible, joint research and other recommendations to progress and address the seal-fisheries conflict issues.