The government has accepted a proposal from the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee, for an independent expert group to investigate the mass die-off of crustaceans along the North East coast that has occurred since October 2021.
The committee made the recommendation in a letter to Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey MP following a hearing in October into the mass deaths. The response from minister Mark Spencer MP said that Coffey had asked government scientists to look into the events in a timely fashion and for the findings of the panel to be published.
However, the government poured cold water on the committee’s request for compensation for the affected fishing communities, agreeing only to “assess the economic impacts of the incident”.
Responding to the government letter, the Chair of the EFRA Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, said:
“It’s great that the department is to establish a proper scientific inquiry into this tragedy, which has had a big impact on our coastal Yorkshire economy. We need to know the cause of these mass sea life deaths to make surewe can prevent it happening again.
“But meanwhile many communities of fishers and potters – who rely on these lobsters and crabs for their livelihoods – have suffered a great deal. I would ask the government to look again at long-term solutions.”
The committee hearing took evidence from both sides of the debate over the cause of the die-off. Defra officials re-asserted their claim that an algal bloom was to blame, whilst scientists commissioned by the fishing industry presented their finding that a dredged-up industrial chemical – pyridine – was the toxin.
Pleas for a pause on dredging and pyridine research rejected
The pleas from fishermen, scientists and environmentalists that dredging of the Tees be paused until the cause of the die-off is known were already rejected by the committee.
The government letter dismissed the committee’s request for more research on pyridine levels in the Tees Estuary, stating,
“…pyridine is not a known contaminant of concern for sediments and biota due to its known chemical and ecotoxicological properties. As such, the evidence base for sediments is weaker than for other contaminants. ..[The Environment Agency] detected no evidence of pyridine from water samples during the monitoring following the incident (October to December 2021). Pyridine is rarely detected in water including in the Tees..”
Refusing the committee’s proposal of a review of dredging practices in the area, the government claimed,
“The [Marine Management Organisation] has conducted marine licence inspections on the dredging works in question and following this they remain satisfied that the works are being conducted in line with the relevant marine licence(s). Inspections on the licenced activities will continue on a periodic basis throughout the length of the licence.”