A NEW report into mass crab and lobster mortalities along the Teesside and North Yorkshire coast has maintained that a harmful algal bloom was the most likely cause.

Hundreds of dead and dying crabs and lobsters were washed ashore in unusually high numbers along parts of the north-east coast of England between October and December 2021, with the mass devastation continuing this year.

Dying animals were described as “twitching” and displaying lethargic behaviour and the inability to right themselves from on their backs.

A range of potential causes including licensed dredging activity, chemical contamination, activities related to offshore windfarms, presence of algal blooms and aquatic animal disease were investigated. No single, consistent causative factor was identified.

However, a harmful algal bloom present in the area was identified as of significance and the most likely cause.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Environment Agency and Maritime Management Organisation are among four agencies who commissioned new research and analysis into the deaths, published on Tuesday.

Read more: Read DEFRA's report into crab and lobster deaths along coast 

The Northern Echo:  Fishermen protest against North East sea life deaths Fishermen protest against North East sea life deaths

Read more: North East fishermen stage protest over mass sea life deaths

Tests on dead crabs and lobsters washed up in the incident, which affected a stretch of coastline stretching from County Durham and Teesside to Robin Hood’s Bay, confirmed they had been exposed to algal toxins.

The report states: “The significance of these algal toxins in the context of the mortality event is not yet fully understood. This will be explored in Defra funded research at Cefas.”

It added that “healthy” crabs and lobsters are now being caught in the region and will continue to be monitored.

But the investigation was ultimately closed in March 2022.

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.

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. 

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

The Northern Echo: Banners were erected at the protest. Picture: The Northern EchoBanners were erected at the protest. Picture: The Northern Echo

Calls have been made by Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham to re-open the investigation.

The Labour MP, who has previously called for the Government to support the North East fishing industry with a compensation package, has written to DEFRA asking for the investigation to be re-opened – and for the effects of dredging to be re-examined.

“The fishing industry is already under pressure as a result of Brexit and the pandemic, and the thousands of dead crustaceans washing up on Teesside beaches only adds further anxiety to the industry as a whole.

“That dead crustaceans are still being caught and found on our beaches not only shows quite clearly that this issue isn’t over, but also casts serious doubt on the “algal bloom” theory accepted by the DEFRA.

“We owe our local fisherman to get this investigation re-opened and seriously explore all other options, including the effects of the dredging of the Tees. I’ve called on DEFRA to do just that.”

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

The Northern Echo: Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTTees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has vowed to work with local fishermen and activists as long as the crisis continues.

“Local people, including our fishing community, were right to be concerned about the dead crabs and lobsters washing up on our shores,” Mr Houchen said.

“It was a serious issue that has hugely impacted on people’s livelihoods. Since the upsetting images of dead and dying crustations first emerged I have pushed every agency involved to conduct a thorough, open and transparent investigation with the results published in full as soon as possible.

“As I’ve previously stated, to date no river dredging has been carried out at Teesworks or in respect of the Freeport. In any case, this report clearly rules out dredging as the cause of deaths and - following water, surface and tissue analysis - also doesn’t consider chemical pollution resulting from dredging a likely cause.

"It instead points to a significant harmful algal bloom, with algal toxins detected in the washed-up shellfish.

“While this doesn’t give a conclusive cause, as we’d have hoped, it’s important we continue to monitor the situation closely and I will be writing to government to ensure a multi-agency long-term monitoring programme is in place so there can be a swift response if anything like this reoccurs in the future.

"We are all proud of our coast and want to see marine life flourish in our region.”


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