I am pleased to inform the Deputy that a joint proposal for research funding under the Commission's Air Programme is being prepared in consultation with marine mammal biologists in Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Sweden.
It is envisaged that a population survey of seals around our coasts will form a critical element of the work planned under the proposal. In addition the study will examine migratory patterns and assess the level of seal interaction with fisheries and the socio-economic implications of such interactions. Preparations for field observations on the migratory patterns of seals have already been initiated.
If the proposal is supported by the commission it is expected that work on the study could begin later this year. The multinational scope of the proposal and the transnational make up of the participants reflects the reality that seal populations are a North Atlantic phenomenon rather than an Irish or UK issue.
As the Deputy will understand therefore until the level of seal population around our coasts have been assessed, it would be very difficult to estimate the effect which the statutory protection of seals under the Wildlife Act might have in terms of fish stocks.