What is the cause of the death of crustaceans in the northeast?

An independent panel will look at the evidence of why thousands of crustaceans died last year to confirm the cause

The UK government has announced that an independent commission will be set up to investigate the deaths of thousands of dead crabs and lobsters that washed ashore on the shores of the North Sea last year.

Large numbers of dying crustaceans were found along parts of the north-east coast of England between October and December 2021. There were distressing scenes of large numbers dead on beaches with fishing crews warning that the catches scattered into the sea after the event were “catastrophic” for them. . ways of living.

The chief scientific adviser from the Department for the Environment,ood and Rural Affairs (Defra), Professor Gideon Henderson, said the deaths were “extraordinary” and that it was “important that we understand their cause”.

Defra said the committee would look at the impact of dredging around the development of a free port on Teesside and the presence of pyridine, a chemical pollutant, among other potential causes.

What happened on the Teesside coast and North Yorkshire?

Residents of coastal communities near the mouth of the River Tees have been sounding the alarm about crustacean deaths since the fall of last year.

An initial report from Defra blamed a naturally occurring algae bloom. But independent researchers blamed chemicals released from dredging associated with the development of the government’s main free port at the mouth of the River Tees.

The development at Europe’s largest brownfield site is expected to bring up to 18,000 new jobs to the region. But some fear that the large-scale demolition, rebuilding and dredging work has disturbed pollutants that have lurked in the area and the surrounding seabed for decades.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the House of Commons Environment Select Committee called for an urgent inquiry into whether dredging caused the deaths.

However, Defra stood by the request of Sir Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, to reduce dredging while the inquest was conducted.

Joe Redfern, secretary of the Whitbyishing Trade Association, told the Defra Select Committee that he believed further dredging could end the fishing industry in the North East. He believes it is “unquestionably” that shoveling and pyridine may have played a role in the bombings.

Image released by Paul Grainger of hundreds of dead crabs on the beach at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool on Sunday. Credit: PA

What investigations found it caused the deaths?

Defra led an official investigation into the incident and pointed the finger at algal blooms as a possible cause. It concluded that it was unlikely that the cause was dredging, chemical contamination, sewage, or animal disease.

However, subsequent research by academics, supported by the fishing industry, suggested that the accident may have resulted from the industrial pollutant pyridine, possibly from dredging in the Tees estuary to maintain channels for port traffic.

There have been calls for a halt to dredging at the new Teessideree Port pending a full analysis of the situation.

In a letter to the Defra parliamentary committee, which is examining the case,isheries Minister Mark Spencer said an independent group would be set up to evaluate evidence about the incident and consider all explanations. This would include the potential roles of algae blooms, scouring and pyridines.

Mr Spencer said Professor Henderson, who had not been previously involved in looking at the matter, would approach the government’s chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance to set up the independent group.

It will consider the findings of the Defra investigation published in May 2022 and subsequent analysis from university researchers.

What was said about further research?

Mr Spencer said: “I am aware that fishing communities in the North East want to do as comprehensive an assessment as possible of the deaths of crabs and lobsters in the past year. Defra’s investigation concluded that the most likely cause was algal blooms, but we have always recognized that this is a complex area of ​​science and have remained open to further from research.

“That is why it is true that all evidence is now being evaluated by independent experts and I look forward to receiving their advice.”

Professor Henderson commented that “the death of a large number of crustaceans last year in the North East of England was unusual” and that the causes “have been assessed and reported on a wide range of measures, by government agencies and university researchers, than one has been put forward to explain the deaths”.

“The high mortality rate of marine life has important consequences for local communities and it is important to understand why this is,” he added.