There should be no new restrictions on dredging in the River Tees without 'credible evidence', it has been warned, as the row over the response to last year's marine life wash ups rumbles on.

The British Ports Association has written to the UK Parliament Environment, Food & Rural Affairs select committee to express concerns over the Committee’s recommendations on dredging, warning certain conclusions reached in the paper are not "credible or even reflective of the results found by the researcher".

Read more: DEFRA committee calls for further North East sea life death tests

Last month the Committee wrote to Ministers with a series of recommendations including reviews of dredging activity, reviews of licence conditions, the ‘minimising’ of dredging until investigations are complete, and new dredging assessments.

The parliamentary committee 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.

The BPA said it does not believe the conclusions reached in the paper are "credible or even reflective of the results found by the researcher".

They also say the results in the paper suggest that over 5,000 dredge disposal events would have had to occur in a single day to have the impact stated in the report, and claim the report contains 'factual errors'. 

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 and it was unlikely that dredging, chemical or sewage pollution or animal disease had been the cause., but campaigners continue to dispute the findings. 

PD Ports, the authority managing the River Tees, says it carries out maintenance dredging all year round and is not to blame.

There have been calls by some campaigners and Labour MPs to pause dredging for the new South Bank Quay at Teesworks pending a full analysis of the situation.

But now, the British Ports Association say the Committee’s recommendations have been based upon the idea that there are two competing theories to explain the cause of the mortality event, one put forward by regulators and another by a marine scientist commissioned by the local fishing industry. 

Having reviewed a copy of the paper, which has not been formally published, the BPA is "concerned that recommendations that could have far-reaching consequences for the ports industry are being made based on its conclusions".

Mark Simmonds, director of policy and external affairs at BPA, said: "We have become increasingly alarmed at some of the statements and recommendations that have been made based on what we believe is unconvincing or erroneous evidence.

!We are pleased that the Minister has defended the robust procedures that are in place and the expert advice available from regulators. We hope that Defra Ministers continue to back the Government’s own expert scientific advice.

"Dredging is fundamental to the safe continued operation of UK ports which are in turn critical to UK logistics, energy, defence, and indeed fishing. No port dredges more than the minimum necessary to allow for the safe navigation of vessels, not least because of the cost.

"Dredging is a routine practice in most ports, nevertheless there are strong processes in place to protect the marine environment and activity is overseen by world-class marine scientists at various regulators and agencies."


Last month, committee members sent a letter to Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey with their findings.

The committee said:

  • 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.

Mr Simmonds added: "The British Ports Association represents almost every fishing port in the UK and we sympathise with the fishing community that were impacted by this event and we hope the Government responds accordingly.

We are keen to better understand the causes of this event but hope that this is done based on sound science. We have confidence in the Government’s process."