HL Deb 15 November 2004 vol 666 cc123-4WA
Lord Fearn

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What protection is given to seals found in waters bordering the coastlines of England and Wales. [HL4749]

Lord Whitty

Seals are protected in England and Wales by the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.

Close Seasons

Under the 1970 Act it is an offence to take or kill seals out of season. The close seasons for seals are: grey seals Halichoerus grypus, 1 September to 31 December; common or harbour seals Phoca Vituline 1 June to 31 August.

The Act also allows the Secretary of State, if it appears necessary for the proper conservation of seals, to prohibit by way of an order the killing, injuring or taking of either or both the above seal species in any area specified in the order. There is currently such an order (The Conservation of Seals (England) Order 1999) protecting common and grey seals on the east coast of England in order to allow the numbers to recover from the phocine distemper virus (PDV) outbreaks of 1988 and 2002 which decimated the common seal population on the east coast of England.

Fishermen are permitted to kill any seal during the close season or in an area where there is a killing or taking prohibition as prescribed in an order, to prevent it causing damage to their fishing tackle or net or to fish in their net, provided the seal is in the vicinity of said equipment at that time.

Prohibited Methods of Killing or Taking

The Act also prohibits the use for killing or taking any seal of any poisonous substance or any firearm other than a rifle using ammunition having a muzzle energy not less than 600 footpounds and a bullet weighing not less than 45 grains.

Further Protection

In addition, Regulation 41(3) of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (S.I. 1994 No. 2716) prohibits certain other methods of killing or taking of certain seal species listed on schedule 3 of the regulations, including common or grey seals. These include electrical devices capable of killing or stunning, explosives, and nets or traps if non-selective according to their principle or conditions of use. Regulation 41(5) of the above regulations also prohibits the use of certain modes of transport to kill or take common or grey seals, namely; aircraft or moving motor vehicles.

The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 protects wild mammals from persons carrying out specified cruel acts with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering.

Licences to Kill or Take

The Secretary of state has the power under Section 10(1) of the 1970 Act to issue licences to any person to take or kill seals, within the close season for various purposes, including: scientific, educational or for the prevention of damage to fisheries.