A Government minister says there are "no plans" for a general cull of seals, after an application suggested shooting them with rifles from boats.
Heritage and Local Government Minister Darragh O'Brien made the comments after a parliamentary question from Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, which aimed to address a seal population problem.
The latest estimates suggest there are approximately 8,000 to 10,000 grey seals and about 5,000 harbour seals in Ireland.
Minister O'Brien said his department had received five Section 42 license applications so far this year.
One of these - relating to an estuary in Sligo - was approved.
One was refused, as it related to the shooting of seals on the Blasket Islands - a special area of conservation for seals.
The remaining three applications - two in Kerry and one in Cork - involved shooting seals from boats.
'Examining the potential'
In his parliamentary response, Minister O'Brien said there were "concerns" about this approach to seal management, given the potential safety concerns arising from using high-powered rifles on moving platforms.
But that his department "is examining the potential" for a pilot scheme, which would test this approach and determine its efficacy in protecting fishermen's catches.
However in a series of tweets on Monday, he clarified: "For the avoidance of any doubt my Department has absolutely no plans for a general cull of seals as stated in the PQ response of Sept 15th & 23rd & I would not sign off on any pilot scheme which would involve fishermen shooting seals from a boat.
"I accept fishermen in a number of coastal areas have concerns & that's why a small number of section 42 licences have been granted over the years.
"There may be a need for innovative solutions but that does not involve a general cull or controlled pilot cull of seals which are protected under the EU Habitats Directive."
For the avoidance of any doubt my Department has absolutely no plans for a general cull of seals as stated in the PQ response of Sept 15th & 23rd & I would not sign off on any pilot scheme which would involve fishermen shooting seals from a boat.
— Darragh O'Brien (@DarraghOBrienTD) September 28, 2020
Earlier Melanie Croce, executive director of Seal Rescue Ireland, told Newstalk Breakfast the seals will regulate themselves.
"They are an indictor species, so the health of the populations is representative of the health of their ecosystem.
"But shooting seals is basically like putting a band aid over a bullet wound, pardon the pun, it's not addressing the actual problem that fish stocks are facing.
"Not only that, but there's a lot of ecotourism potential for jobs that rely on the presence of seals and other marine mammals - like kayaking and boat tours.
"And with COVID, there's a big push towards outdoor recreation - so there's a lot of opportunity there for future growth.
"So it's important that we protect these seals".