EVER since thousands of crustaceans washed up on North Yorkshire and Teesside beaches last October there's been growing discontent among the local fishing community.

Many did not accept the findings of a multi-agency investigation led by DEFRA which concluded an algal bloom was behind the mass deaths.

This anger was reflected in campaign group Ocean Rebellion dumping piles of dead and rotting crabs at DEFRA's door in London yesterday (Tuesday, April 5).

We take a look back at the events that led up to this drastic action and examine the reasons why the fishing community remains steadfast in its belief that chemicals disturbed by dredging the Tees riverbed were responsible for the custacea deaths.

Early October 2021

The first reports of a mass crustacea wash-up on Hartlepool beaches emerges in the first week of October.

A dog walker posts on Facebook that she saw hundreds of dead crabs along Seaton Carew beach in Hartlepool and North Gare.

Reports soon followed that dead crabs and lobsters were also being found in high numbers on North Yorkshire and Teesside beaches including Sandsend, Saltburn, Redcar and Whitby.

At this point, the Environment Agency said the cause of the deaths was 'unclear' and an investigation was launched.

The Northern Echo: This picture taken at Seaton Sands Beach, Seaton Carew, in October shows the extent of the devastation to crustaceans Picture: @12BBYTHESEASIDEThis picture taken at Seaton Sands Beach, Seaton Carew, in October shows the extent of the devastation to crustaceans Picture: @12BBYTHESEASIDE

Mid-October - 'It's getting apocalyptic'

As dead crabs continue to wash up on the region's beaches, former Redcar MP Anna Turley tweets her dismay, saying: "What is going on? This is getting apocalyptic."

The town's Conservative MP, Jacob Young, describes the situation 'as deeply worrying' and says he has raised the matter with Ministers.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the wash-up continues involving a host of agencies including the Environment Agency, CEFAS the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Agriculture (CEFAS) and the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority on the (NEIFCA).

November - Several causes ruled out

Investigators continue to assess the situation and their tests so far rule out sewage, undersea cabling, seismic survey activity or dredging as likely causes for the crustacea deaths.

However, many among the fishing community believe it was no coincidence that the deaths happened shortly after dredging activity in the Tees on September 25.

The Northern Echo:

December - Angry fishermen speak out

Fishermen along the affected coastline begin publicly voicing their frustration over a lack of answers over the wash-up.

They believe that deeper dredging of the River Tees to accomodate the Freeport has disturbed long-dormant chemicals which entered the sea and killed the local crab and lobster population.

Reports also emerge that limpets were affected and were dropping dead off rocks.

James Cole, chair of the Whitby Fishermen's Association says that some inshore fishermen have reported a 95 reduction in their catch rates amid concern that whatever killed the crabs and lobsters could enter the wider aquatic foodchain.

DEFRA, which is leading the investigation, maintains that chemical pollution caused by dredging was not the cause of the wash-up and indicates that a natural phenomena may be responsible.

The Northern Echo: Investigators at work trying to establish what caused the wash-upInvestigators at work trying to establish what caused the wash-up

January 2022 - Dead seals wash up

Reports of a handful of dead seals washing up on North East beaches prompts some concern that they had died from whatever was killing the crabs and lobsters.

DEFRA says there is no evidence linking the seal deaths with the crustacea wash-up.

Marine life expert Dr Martin Kitching, who leads the North East Cetacean Project, says it wasn't unusual to see dead seals at this time of the year as it comes after birthing season meaning there are many young seals about who were particularly vulnerable to the elements.

Others say that the seals perished due to a dramatic decline in food due to the loss of local crab and lobster populations.

The Northern Echo: Dead seals found on beaches at Whitby and Sandsend in North Yorkshire and North and South Gare in RedcarDead seals found on beaches at Whitby and Sandsend in North Yorkshire and North and South Gare in Redcar

February 2022 - Investigation reaches conclusion

Following significant testing and modelling to rule out possible causes, Defra and partner agencies find that the deaths of the crabs and lobsters were potentially caused by a naturally occurring harmful algal bloom.

This angers the fishing community who had commissioned their own report written by Tim Deere-Jones, an independent consultant with 30-years’ experience investigating marine pollution events.

Mr Deere-Jones compared levels of the toxic chemical Pyridine found in crabs on the North East and North Yorkshire coast with sample crabs from Penzance in Cornwall.

He found that the North East crabs had significantly higher levels in their systemand concluded that it could be due to chemicals released by dredging activity.

DEFRA sticks to its algal bloom theory, stating that Pyridine levels detected in crab tissue are likely to be linked to biological processes and not necessarily from the environment.

The Northern Echo:

February 2022 - Letter of no confidence

Fishing and angling associations the length of the coast from Bridlington to Hartlepool send a letter of no confidence to the North Eastern Inshore and Fishing Conservation Authority (NEIFCA).

They say they feel let down over the investigation and call for the resignation of the authority's Chief David McCandless and Deputy Chief, Ian Davis.

Mr McCandless tells The Northern Echo that he understands the fishermens' frustration over the matter, but he refuted allegations that the authority was not taking it seriously.

March 2022 - More dead crabs and lobsters wash up

Hartlepool Labour councillors Rachel Creevy and Jennifer Elliott submit Freedom of Information Requests to the investigating authorities amid fresh reports of dead crabs and lobsters found in fishing pots.

They say fishermen continue to be affected by the issue and they deserve answers,

DEFRA acknowledges that further "scientific work" was required.

The Northern Echo: Councillor Rachel Creevy and Councillor Jennifer ElliottCouncillor Rachel Creevy and Councillor Jennifer Elliott

April 2022 - Dead crabs dumped on DEFRA's doorstep

Campaign group Ocean Rebellion dumps piles of dead crabs at DEFRAS's offices on Marsham Street in London on Tuesday, April 5.

The stunt aims to draw national attention to the issue as the group demands that DEFRA reopens the investigation and suspends all dredging activity in the affected area.

The Northern Echo: Ocean Rebellion dump dead crabs and set up a 'crime scene' at DEFRA's Westminster offices Picture: Guy ReeceOcean Rebellion dump dead crabs and set up a 'crime scene' at DEFRA's Westminster offices Picture: Guy Reece


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