A parliamentary committee have urged the government to further investigate the mass sea life deaths off the North East coast and provide more support for fishermen, but recommended dredging should continue.

MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee heard from Teesside and North Yorkshire fishermen and scientists on Tuesday, October 25, in an extraordinary meeting on the sea life crisis over the past year.

Locals claimed the North Sea is experiencing an ‘extinction episode’ and said dredging could be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the industry after a mass die-off saw huge numbers of crustaceans wash up on Teesside’s shores last October.

DEFRA has ruled it is due to an algal bloom, but some academics believe the cause to be toxic chemical pyridine unearthed from the river. However, PD Ports, the authority managing the River Tees, says it carries out maintenance dredging all year round and is not to blame.

Read more: North East fishermen's worry that dredging will kill sea life

The Northern Echo: Mass die-offs of sea life were first spotted on beaches in the region in October 2021Mass die-offs of sea life were first spotted on beaches in the region in October 2021 (Image: The Northern Echo)

Committee members have now written to the new Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey with their findings.

The committee says:

  • There is clearly a need for further data and research on the causes of the mass die-off.
  • This research must be done in an open and collaborative way between Government Agencies and the wider scientific communities, including the independent verification of testing.
  • The Government Chief Scientific Adviser should urgently appoint an expert independent scientific panel to review the evidence for both theories.
  • The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) must urgently review the dredging activity in the Tees.
  • We recommend that the MMO explore, in line with the precautionary principle, what steps could be taken to reduce the risk associated with capital and maintenance dredging such as improved techniques to prevent dredged sediment escaping into the wider environment during excavation.
  • The MMO must also ensure that all the current conditions on its licence are met and should include pyridine in the testing as part of any future licence approval process. All dredged material should be tested for pyridine and any that is found to have dangerous levels of pyridine should not be disposed of at sea.
  • Maintenance dredging should be kept to the minimum level needed until the expert panel’s investigation is completed.
  • MMO should routinely check for pyridine as part of the testing and approval process for any new capital dredging works
  • The Government should reconsider its position on providing financial support to affected communities.

Hartlepool fisherman Stan Rennie told the meeting that half of the town’s fishing fleet were out of business and the industry had subsequently been hit by job losses.

Responding to the committee’s findings, a spokesperson for the South Tees Development Corporation said: “Our transformative work at the South Bank Quay is of national significance and will help to unlock thousands of jobs in Redcar. As would be expected of a nationally significant project, we have complied with the highest legal standards and requirements laid down in licences and guidance right from the very start. 

“We welcome the comments of the Select Committee. The cross-party committee has concluded dredging can continue. Information on the extensive testing carried out on our behalf is available on the MMO website.

“Environmental standards are important to us and, as we have throughout, we will always adhere to the rules and laws set by Government agencies. We continue to follow all the standards set out by DEFRA and the MMO, who continue to rule out dredging as a likely cause of the crustacean deaths. The Tees Valley Mayor is also continuing to push the Government for financial support to those fishermen whose livelihoods have been affected by this issue. 

“Our only dredging to date, which began on September 1 - almost a year after the die off in October 2021 - has had no issues and is due to be completed in the next few days.”

Read the letter from Sir Robert Goodwill MP Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee below

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