Inshore fishermen in Dingle, Co Kerry are calling for an immediate cull of the local seal population, claiming the damage to fish stocks and nets is now "unsustainable".

Population numbers of grey seals, and the smaller common seal, have visibly increased in recent years with thousands of grey seals now taking up residence on the Tra Bán on the Great Blasket Island.

Both the grey and common or harbour seal are protected under the EU habitats directive and the Blasket is a special area of conservation for seals.

The seals have no natural predators other than an occasional norca whale.

Fishermen may apply for permits to cull one or two seals may be granted to individual fishermen by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

However, figures earlier this year released to Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan revealed only 21 such permits were granted for killing of seals in the period from 2010 to the end of 2018.

A public meeting in Dingle before Christmas was told the attacks on pollock and other fish stocks are now unsustainable and are forcing smaller fishermen out of business and out of the winter fishing trade.

Fishermen in Dingle display haul of fish after a seal attack

A number of politicians, including Kerry TDs attended the meeting.

The seals are following the gill netters and are attacking nets from bigger ships up to 70 miles off shore and damaging their hake and haddock catches, the meeting heard.

"They'll also follow the boats into the harbour," spokesman Adam Flannery said.

Mr Flannery said he has had to sell his 26-foot boat this year. Last Christmas was spent fishing off west Cork.

"It got so bad with seals and weather in Dingle, I brought my boat down to Crosshaven," Mr Flannery said.

The seals are "tearing the nets" and when not hungry they bite and play with the fish.

"The Tra Bán is black from one end to the other with them. There are thousands of seals there," he said.

"We are looking for a cull. Because if we do not get a cull in six to eight months, within a few years there won't be any inshore boat in Dingle," Mr Flannery said.

"We are not asking for slaughter but we are asking for seal management, and a proper cull," Mr Flannery said of the fishermen's demands.

He also said that fishermen are being restricted by quotas while Spanish boats fishing in the region are landing their catch onto trucks bound for Rosslare and Spain.

Exact numbers of seals are hard to come by, but recent research carried out by St Andrews University on behalf of the NPWS found there just over 4,000 harbour and almost 3,700 grey seals around the coast of Ireland - increases of between 15% and 25% on five years ago.

The Dingle fishermen say the southwest is now over-populated, causing stress on the seals themselves as well as on the fishermen.

In a recent Dáil reply to TD Michael Healy Rae, Minister Madigan said the NPWS is investigating sonar and other deterrents which could be employed by commercial fishermen to stop seals causing damage.