ALGAL bloom remains the leading theory as to what killed thousands of crustaceans which washed up on beaches in the North East, MPs have heard – but an independent report points the finger at a toxic chemical.

On Wednesday (February 9) Teesside MPs Simon Clarke and Jacob Young met the Minister for Fisheries, Victoria Prentis, and the top scientists who are leading the investigation into the coastal crustacean incident.

A DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) investigation concluded the sea life deaths were a result of naturally occurring harmful algal bloom.

But Wednesday's meeting came after DEFRA’s conclusion was disputed by some members of the fishing community and an independent marine pollution consultant amid concerns about levels of a chemical called pyridine found in the dead creatures and a proposed link to dredging work taking place at Teesport.

Read more: Toxic chemicals blamed for North East crab deaths despite DEFRA claims 

The Northern Echo: Dead crabs on Redcar beach. Picture: The Northern EchoDead crabs on Redcar beach. Picture: The Northern Echo

Simon Clarke, Tory MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who had previously met affected fishermen during a recent surgery in Loftus, raised these fresh concerns directly with Minister Victoria Prentis and DEFRA scientists during their meeting.

But DEFRA officials have ruled out the alternative hypotheses noting that there was no evidence of any dredging out of the proposed designated areas and that the level of pyridine was likely to be a naturally occurring substance released as shellfish decay.

The officials also explained that if the incident had resulted from a chemical leak, the volume of chemical required to have fatal effect, taking into account dilution, would have been detected in the waters - no chemical was found.

Mr Clarke added: "I met two fishermen at a recent constituency surgery in Loftus and I was very moved by the devastating effect this incident continues to have on their livelihoods. 

"It was always absolutely vital that all possible causes of this incident were tested for and ruled out before reaching any conclusions.

"Had any human cause been identified, all necessary steps would have been taken to ensure this never happened again.

"After DEFRA released their conclusion that this incident had been caused by algal bloom, an alternative hypothesis regarding concerns about dredging at Teesport was raised and highlighted in the press. 

"As a representative of my constituents, Jacob and I raised the alternative hypotheses and robustly quizzed the scientists on their findings.

"These top scientists were able to assure us however that none of the alternative hypotheses were plausible given the wealth of evidence gathered as part of their investigation.

"They also agreed to answer any further questions that may arise and to publish a Q and A about the incident with DEFRA.

"I am assured that this incredibly unusual and alarming event was a result of rare but naturally occurring phenomena."  

The Northern Echo: Dead crabs, lobsters, limpets and now seals have washed up dead on North East and North Yorkshire beaches. Picture: The Northern EchoDead crabs, lobsters, limpets and now seals have washed up dead on North East and North Yorkshire beaches. Picture: The Northern Echo

Read more: Dead seals turn up on North East beaches - as crabs mystery continues

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, added: "We were all rightly concerned at the scenes on our beaches with thousands of crustaceans washed up dead or dying on our shores last year.

"On top of the obvious harm to wildlife, the effect this incident has had on the fishing industry cannot be overstated.

"Today we raised alternative explanations for the deaths with DEFRA, the EA, the MMO and CEFAS and I was very convinced by the quality of their evidence and the logic of their conclusions.  

"They maintain that the most likely cause was algal bloom and there comes a point where I - as an MP - must defer to DEFRA and their expertise in this field."

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