A "VACUUM of information" from the authorities is leading to ongoing speculation as thousands of crustaceans wash up on dead on the region's beaches - and now seals.

It has been almost four months since reports first emerged of scores of crabs, lobsters and even octopuses being found dead on beaches stretching from Whitby to Hartlepool.

Read more: Drunken vandal threatened village residents with a glass bottle

Yet the investigating authorities appear to be no closer to identifying the cause despite extensive laboratory tests and studies.

In recent weeks, dead seals have begun washing up on the region's beaches though it is unclear whether this is linked to the crustacean wipeout in October.

The Northern Echo:

Dead seals have been found on beaches at South and North Gare, Sandsend and Whitby

Some experts and fishermen remain convinced to that dredging of the Tees to create a greater depth for the Teesside Freeport is responsible for dislodging long-dormant chemicals from the riverbed which have entered the sea and poisoned marine life.

Defra, which is leading the multi-agency investigation, has ruled this out as a possible cause.

It says that nothing in the testing of sediment or evidence from Environment Agency sampling suggests a chemical contaminant is a cause and that testing of sediment at the Inner Tees disposal site took place in April 2021 and there was no evidence of significantly elevated contaminants.

But despite this, speculation is rife among the fishing community that chemicals related to dredging are responsible for the widespread death of the crustaceans.

'We need answers'

Academic and lobster fisherman, Joe Redfern, who holds a Masters in marine biology and works for the Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, says a lack of information about the investigations has fuelled this speculation.

Joe, who has been researching inshore marine life in the region for around two years and fishes for lobster off Whitby, told The Northern Echo: “What has happened isn’t natural from my perspective, something has happened and we need to get to the bottom of it.

“We need answers and the fishing community needs answers.

“There has been a really massive impact on fishing and at the end of the day, that is people’s livelihoods - and more than that, it is a whole community, a whole way of life for these people who have been fishing for generations.”

The Northern Echo:

Agencies investigating at sea Picture: DEFRA

Joe, who is also involved in the Whitby Lobster Hatchery project to raise and release juvenile lobsters back into the sea, believes better communication is needed between the investigating agencies and the fishing community.

He said: “I think it is unusual for an investigation to be taking this long.

“There have been a lot of unanswered questions and there has not been enough transparency from the agencies to the industry and not enough effort has been made to ask the fishermen questions.

“The fishing community knows about the populations of the animals and the species more than the vast majority of these researchers who are sat behind desks all over the country.

“They are the first people to see the warning signs and to know what is happening.

“I think a lot of fishermen feel let down by the agencies and there is an element of mistrust there as well and it really comes from this vacuum of not having any answers and not enough information from the agencies.

“It creates this vacuum where people are forced to speculate.”

The Northern Echo:

Dead crabs and lobsters washed up on the region's beaches

Meanwhile, the investigation continues, and a Defra spokesperson has again confirmed that sediment testing has ruled out dredging as a likely cause of the dead crabs and lobsters.

She added: “Our priority is to understand the cause of the issue and investigations are ongoing.”

A spokeswoman for PD Ports said they are also frustrated at the lack of answers.

She said: "As the Statutory Harbour Authority for the River Tees, we are equally disturbed by the number of deceased crustaceans that appeared across North East beaches late last year.

"We have continued to work alongside the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the Environmental Agency (EA) and other official bodies to provide all information we have available to assist with this enquiry which, subsequently, has ruled out dredging activity as a possible cause.

"We are committed to the conservation of the River Tees and share in the frustration that a cause has not yet been identified for this issue."

The Freeport is one of Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen’s flagship projects but he, himself has not responded to requests for a comment on the dredging speculation.


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