A row has broken out out over the possibility of future crustacean deaths as a government minister was grilled on the issue which blighted the North East coastline.

A heated exchange between Environmental Secretary Thérèse Coffey and Labour MP Gerent Davies broke out in today's (March 28) meeting of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

It comes as scientists have said they are "finally seeing shore crab and edible crab juveniles return" along the Teesside coast.

The debate focused on the uncertainty regarding the deaths of crabs and crustaceans which washed up on beaches in October 2021.

A report earlier this year was unable to find a single cause for the mass wash-ups. Four main factors were considered by the panel, a possible disease, a harmful algal bloom, toxic chemicals including pyridine, and dredging – but all were ruled out as a clear single cause.

Mr Davies questioned Ms Coffey over the government's decision not to further investigate the exact cause of the wash-ups.

Read more: Teesside crustacean deaths: Government refuse further analysis

The minister said: “We did make the judgement that we wouldn’t try and pursue any further research, however, we did say we would respond to similar mortality events and CEFAS has not received any reports of mortality events since the original 2021 incident.”

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Meanwhile, Ms Coffey said testing will be carried out by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

“There was mortality in another area reported to CEFAS in 2022 but the samples were provided frozen which limited any investigation possible.

“After decline, my understanding is that landings started to return to typical levels and I know that in other parts of the North East there has been drops in the catches of prawns overall in that area.

“The review has indicated that there hasn’t been a particular change in that regard so there’s no obvious particular things to get into but as I said at the time, if there are reports of similar crab crustacean incidents experienced in that 2021 incident CEFAS will be involved pretty much straight away to determine it.”

A new disease was put forward in the panel's report as the most likely cause of the deaths.

This was described as being "as likely as not" as being the cause of the mortalities with a probability of between 33 and 66 per cent in likelihood.

Mr Davies also asked why fishermen whose livelihoods were impacted by the deaths were not offered compensation and support to the level of that provided to those affected by the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001.

"You’ll be aware that when we had testimony that had multiple generations of fishing in their family and now because of the devastation of the crabs stocks.

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"As you know crabs take five to six years to mature, they’re now going to have to sell up their boats and that’s the end of their living forever."

"Why is it that you haven’t called on the government to provide some level of compensation even if this is an act of god as it were, akin to the foot and mouth disease where farmers were compensated."

In response, Ms Coffey said the two situations were different, and said support may be made available through the seafood fund.