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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 15:33 GMT
Diet of grey seals under scrutiny
There have been calls for a seal cull
More research needs to be done into the impact grey seals are having on fish stocks, Deputy Environment Minister Rhona Brankin has said.

Her comments come in the wake of new research showing their diet has changed in the last 20 years.

They are eating fewer sand eels, the same amount of cod but three times more haddock and herring.

Ms Brankin said further scientific studies still needed to be done. Some fishermen are calling for a seal cull.

The latest study was carried out for the Scottish Executive and Scottish Natural Heritage.

The executive said the grey seal population on the west coast of Scotland had increased since 1985.

'Important fish'

Ms Brankin said the impact of the seals on fish numbers was still not clear. She said: "While it shows an increase in predation on some important fish species in 2002 it does not tell us whether grey seals might limit the ability of some stocks to recover or take into account the impact of other sources of fish mortality, including other predators.

"The findings of this study will be presented to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to consider the implications for annual assessment of fish stocks and to the European Commission to inform the review of the cod recovery plan."

Some Scottish fishermen are pressing for the first seal cull in the Scotland for 28 years rather than see quotas on how much fish they are allowed to catch further cut.

Grey seals continue to prey on cod, which are caught commercially

They asked European Union Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg to consider the move during his recent two-day visit to Scotland.

EU scientists said a zero catch was necessary to allow overfished cod stocks to revive.

However, politicians argue fishing communities cannot be put out of work overnight.

In Scotland, research into a seal cull has the backing of Labour MSP Alasdair Morrison and Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson.

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