A petition that has been launched which calls for a pause to dredging in the river Tees while further research into unexplained sea life deaths in the area takes place has reached more than 20,000 signatures.

The petition was launched by local campaign group Reclaim Our Sea three weeks ago, after an independent panel appointed by the Department for the Environement, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to assess the evidence of multiple mass die-off events of crustaceans and other animals along the Teesside and North Yorkshire coast delivered an inconclusive report into the matter.

Read more: Government refuses more research or support to fishers after Tees crustacean deaths

While ruling out Defra's own original theory that an algal bloom had caused the deaths, the panel's report also discounted the likelihood of toxic chemical pyridine.

The panel's report said that the possible cause with the highest likelihood, although still only "as likely as not", was a new, unidentified disease.

"Given the entirely contradictory conclusions," the petition says of the Defra panel's report, "we call for immediate independent rigorous sampling (which has not yet taken place) and research plus adoption of the precautionary principle which demands a halt of conduct likely to cause harm to the environment whilst investigative work is undertaken."

Routine maintenance dredging of the Tees is undertaken by PD Ports to maintain access to the river for ships and has taken place for decades. Meanwhile new areas are being dredged to provide access to the Teesworks freeport site.

PD Ports did not respond to The Echo's request for a comment.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has previously said the work would pave the way for thousands of jobs.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We’ve supported those people who say we need to find what caused the die-off, and at the moment the most likely working theory is it could be a foreign pathogen or a disease that caused that. The science is very clear as to what didn’t cause it.

“Although we might not know what caused it, we’ve got a very very strong set of data and science that shows what didn’t cause it. That allows us to get on with the jobs we said we were going to deliver.”

Local fishers and environmental campaigners have long believed that the dumping of material at sea dredged from the polluted Tees as part of the development of the Teesworks freeport site could be responsible for the multiple die-off events that have taken place since October 2021.

All material that has been disposed of at sea has complied with the terms of the license granted to port company PD Ports by the government's Marine Management Organisation.

The Defra panel's report stated that the release of toxic chemicals via routine maintenance dredging of the Tees was "very unlikely".

Campaigners argue that deeper samples of sediment in the Tees need to be taken in order to completely rule out the possibility of historic toxic chemicals being the cause of dwindling stocks for the area's fishers.


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The petition has seen thousands of new signatures added since the Government announced it would not be investigating the cause of the crustacean deaths in the North Sea. They also said that they would not be providing financial support to fishers in the area whose livelihoods have been affected.

The issue of the mass crustacean deaths has also featured on the BBC's Countryfile, with Hartlepool fisherman Stan Rennie describing how more than 500 years of his family's tradition of fishing at sea will now probably end with him.

The petition is available at this link: https://www.change.org/p/pause-investigate-tees-dredge