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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/protected-marine-species/seals
All seals are protected from unauthorised methods of killing. For example, they can only be killed by a rifle that uses ammunition with a muzzle energy of at least 600 footpounds and a bullet that is a minimum of 45 grains – see section 1 of the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.
1. Controlling individual seals
Anyone person can control individual seals during the closed season or in a conservation order area to prevent damage to their fishing nets, tackle or catch – see section 9 of the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. The seal must be in the vicinity of their equipment at the time of control. There are conditions that need to be met to use this ‘netsman’s defence’ – contact your local Marine Management Organisation office for further information.
Unauthorised or prohibited methods of being taken, captured or killed
The protections listed are for different species of seals (Phocidae), including grey and common.
- Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 regulation 47 protects all species from 12 to 200 nautical miles
- Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 regulation 45 protects bearded, grey, common, harp, hooded, ringed seals from 0 to 12 nautical miles
- Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 section 11 protects any wild animal from 0 to 12 nautical miles
- Conservation of Seals Act 1970 section 1 protects all seals from 0 to 12 nautical miles
2. Closed seasons
The grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and common seal (Phoca vitulina) are also protected from being killed, injured or taken during specific closed seasons – see section 2 of the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.
The grey seal’s closed season is 1 September to 31 December and the common seal’s is 1 June to 31 August.
However, the Secretary of State and devolved administrations can extend that protection to the entire year for either or both the above seal species in any area specified in an order.
2.1 East and south-east coast of England
Both grey and common seals on the east and south-east coast of England (from Berwick to Newhaven) are protected all year from being killed, injured or taken – Conservation of Seals (England) Order 1999. This includes the counties of Durham, East Riding of Yorkshire, East Sussex, Essex, Hartlepool, Kent, Kingston-upon-Hull, Lincolnshire, Medway Towns, Middlesbrough, Norfolk, North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, Redcar and Cleveland, Southend-on-Sea, Stockton-on-Tees, Suffolk, Thurrock, Tyne and Wear and the administrative area of Greater London.
Also, territorial waters next to England that are south of a line drawn from the point on the mainland at 55’48.67N 02’02.0W and next to any of the areas specified above to no further west than a line drawn true south from Newhaven Breakwater Health Light (50’46.5N 00’03.6E).
3. Trading and importing seal products
The trading and importing of seal products is regulated for all species of pinnipeds – seals, sea-lions and walruses – by the Seal Products Regulations 2010. The regulations introduced an EU-wide ban on commercially importing and marketing all seal products and any related products.
The ban applies to all seal products unless any of the following are true. If they:
- result from traditional hunts conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and contribute to their subsistence
- result from hunts regulated under national law with the sole purpose of the sustainable management of marine resources and where the products are marketed on a non-profit basis
- are exclusively for the personal use of travellers or their families and only occasionally imported
See also the European Commission’s implementing regulations Commission Regulation 737/2010.
There is also a ban on commercially importing harp and hooded seal pup skins and any products containing such skin.
4. Further information
5. Contact information
5.1 Marine Conservation and Enforcement Team
0300 123 1032