HC Deb 14 February 1985 vol 73 cc267-8W
Mr. John Townend

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has of the seal population in the North sea; what information he has as to the gross food requirement of the seal population there; and what information he has as to the amount of fish destroyed but not consumed by the seals.

Mr. Mellor

[pursuant to his reply, 7 December 1984, c. 295]: The Natural Environment Research Council provides regular advice on the management of seal populations, including annual estimates of the population.

There are five population centres for grey seals in the United Kingdom: the Fame Islands, Outer Hebrides and Orkney, Inner Hebrides, and South-West Britain. Only the Fame Islands population can really be considered to be in the North sea, and NERC's population estimate for that area is 8,010.

For common seals there are six population centres: Inner Hebrides, Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, east coast Scotland and the Wash. The figures for the two relevant areas—east coast Scotland and the Wash—are 850 to 1,050 and 6,600 respectively. The approximate total of all seals in the North sea is therefore 15,500.

In January 1984, NERC's sea mammal reseach unit produced a report for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland on the interactions between grey seals and United Kingdom fisheries. The report covers grey seals only, and we have no comparable information about common seals. The report estimates the maximum annual consumption of fish by grey seals in the Farne Islands at 15,930 tonnes.

As regards fish damaged but not eaten, the report analyses damage to the salmon population at certain specific sites, but it does not attempt to give overall estimates for the North sea or for all fish species. I understand from NERC that it would be practically impossible to produce such figures.

A copy of NERC's report is available in the Library of the House.