FURIOUS fishermen have demanded an investigation be reopened into the cause of mass sea life deaths along the North East coastline which is leaving their industry at breaking point.

People from Hartlepool, Redcar, Scarborough and Whitby descended on South Gare beach on Thursday morning to raise awareness of the crisis and protest over a lack of support from politicians and authorities.

Banners, flares and flags were on display from fishermen in a show of solidarity against the on-going problem, which was first reported in October 2021, and they also issued a stark warning as they called for action to be taken, declaring “as the sea dies we die".

DEFRA, a government department, concluded that a naturally occurring harmful algal bloom was the most likely cause of the incident after an investigation between October-December 2021. It ruled out other causes such as chemical pollution, sewage, animal disease, and dredging.

However, campaigners have continued to passionately disagree on the findings, pointing the figure at dredging which has been carried out in the mouth of the river at various stages by PD Ports.

Read more: Fishermen's fury as mysterious killer wipes out North East sea life

The Northern Echo: Dozens of fishing boats took part in the protest at the mouth of the River Tees. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTDozens of fishing boats took part in the protest at the mouth of the River Tees. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

With a further two million tonnes of sediment to be dumped imminently at the same spoil site, the fishing crews say they have “grave concerns that our already dying inshore waters will receive a final and fatal blow which could last for decades and impact other industries including tourism”.

They also want politicians in the region to do more to help find a solution. 

The Northern Echo: Sally Bunce. Picture: NORTH NEWS AND PICTURESSally Bunce. Picture: NORTH NEWS AND PICTURES

Sally Bunce, a seal rescue volunteer, said: “I am so pleased by the amount of people that have turned out on a weekday to support the fishermen and support the seas – it was very emotional and there were a few tears.

“I know the fishermen will appreciate it because they feel like they have been on their own for so long. There has been so much concern on the impact it has had on our marine wildlife.

“I think we have generated the momentum now to be able to move this forward and DEFRA and the Tees Valley Combined Authority will now realise we need to work together to be able to move this forward.”

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Read more: No plans for new investigation into North East sea life deaths

Kendra Ullyart, of Friends of the Earth Darlington, travelled to South Gare to add her voice to the calls for a new investigation. She said: “I’m really concerned about what has been going on here since last October. There are thousands of crabs that have been washed up on the beaches.

“I couldn’t believe that such a terrible atrocity was going to be swept back into the sea and forgotten about. 

“The suggestion by Defra does not answer why we are having such mass devastation on our coastlines that is stopping people walking their dogs and making the fishermen warn their industry is at crisis point.”

Marine life rescue volunteers told of a dramatic increase in dead seal pups washing up along the coastline. Up to 57 pups have been rescued since February and those that aren't already dead, they say, are severely malnourished and require urgent care to save. 

Tom Casey, of Extinction Rebellion Teesside, branded DEFRA’s algal bloom ruling as “pathetic” and a cover up.

He said: “They were hoping this would all go away but now they are going to have to do something about it.

“We will be continuing with this push and I hope that more people will join us.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said the local fishing industry deserves better and he vowed to help them through the crisis.

"I have every sympathy with our fishermen," he said. "This is a major problem that is causing real concern and having a huge detrimental impact on their industry which has been such an iconic part of Teesside for generations. 

"I want to stress once again that no dredging has been done by Teesworks and no river work has been done in relation to the Freeport. PD Ports as the statutory harbour authority are responsible for any work that has been carried out in the mouth of the River Tees, including dredging. 

"That doesn't mean I am not doing my bit to help and I will continue to do everything I can to get to the bottom of this and push for more answers from Defra and the Environment Agency. Our fishermen and their vital industry deserve better than this and I can assure every single one of them that I will play my part to help them get through this crisis."

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

Read more: North East marine life crisis - who is responsible?

But Simon Clarke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP whose constituency has a long seafront from Saltburn to Skinningrove, remains committed to the algal bloom ruling. 

He said he had met fishermen from Loftus to hear their concerns and also had had a meeting with the Defra fisheries minister.

“The Defra scientists are clear that algal bloom is the reason for what has happened here and has had a disastrous impact on shellfish stocks," he said. "I have no reason to doubt their expertise in this, and while I know there is a lot of speculation, I would urge people to engage with the Defra read-out as I do believe that is the scientific basis for what has happened here.

“It is a major source of concern. It is obviously extremely difficult for the local industry and I will be working closely with colleagues and Defra ministers to ensure we support the industry as best we can through the process of recovery. I completely get that if you are reliant on this as your source of income this is an exquisitely difficult moment.

“I have no reason to believe the sea is dangerous. It looks like a natural incident that has had very serious effects.

“I have to defer to the scientists and while I have heard those theories (about dredging), I have no reason to believe that Defra are wrong in their analysis that it was an algal bloom.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are monitoring recent wash-ups at South Gare and the Tees area. Small scale wash-ups can occur naturally due to seasonality and weather conditions and we are working closely with partner agencies to support the monitoring and recovery of stocks.

“We note that there are reports of poor catches and we are working with the industry and partner agencies to monitor this and are communicating regularly with the fishing community.”

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