§ Mr. Popplewell
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has authorised a further cull of grey seals to be undertaken on the Fame Islands.
§ Mr. Peart
The grey seal population on the Fame Islands has risen as a result of protection from a few hundred in the 1930's to about 3,500 at present. The most recent estimates suggest it is still increasing at the rate of about 6 per cent. a year. There is no doubt that the large grey seal population on the Fame Islands and the Orkneys causes losses to fisheries by damaging nets and by catching or injuring fish. It is difficult to make an exact assessment of the extent of this. A rough estimate based on information collected on behalf of the Consultative Committee on grey seals and fisheries put the loss to net fishermen on the East Coast of Scotland at between £50,000 and £100,000 a year on salmon alone compared with their total catch of something between £650,000 and £700,000 a year.218W In addition there are losses of white fish frequently reported but impossible to estimate.
I can only conclude that if the expansion of the grey seal population is allowed to continue unchecked this damage will increase. The Consultative Committee which was set up under the chairmanship of the Nature Conservancy, and which included a majority of scientists, concluded in its Report published last year "that an experimental control should be attempted in the interest of fisheries; it might well be that such control would prove to be for the benefit of the colonies as well".
I have therefore, after considering this matter most carefully, decided to authorise the second cull recommended by the Committee, of up to 360 young seals on the Fame Islands designed to effect a modest reduction in the grey seal population.
This cull is repugnant to all of us but is, I think, necessary and will be carried out humanely, and I hope that, as in the past, an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. will be present to see that this is the case.
I am asking the Consultative Committee to continue to examine the effect of seals on fisheries and, in so far as this is possible, the effect of the cull on the colony. I will then review the matter before a further cull is undertaken.