Government refuses to compensate fishermen after thousands of crab and lobster deaths
However, Environment Minister Victoria Prentis said the Government is “not currently considering compensation” as it was a naturally occurring event.
The dead crustaceans have been washing ashore since October last year and an investigation, led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), concluded that a naturally-occuring algal bloom is “the most likely cause”.
Local fishermen are adamant the crustaceans have died because dredging in the River Tees has released harmful chemicals into the water, but it was ruled out as a likely cause by the investigation.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Cunningham said the algal bloom was “not definitively identified as the cause” and the decision to close the investigation was “premature”, as more work needs to be done to look at the possible link to dredging.
The Labour MP for Stockton North said one crew only caught lobsters last week, despite using 50 pots, and only one was alive. While another crew caught just one crab and seven lobsters in a day.
He said: “It is absolutely vital that further action is taken soon. The reports of the impact of the last year on the marine landscape of the Tees estuary and the coast of the North East of England are horrifying.
“We are blessed with a beautiful and diverse landscape off our coast and it’s being decimated.
“Just last month, piles and piles of crabs, lobsters, razor clams and dried seaweed formed on the beaches of South Gare and all along the coast of Saltburn.”
He added: “It’s not good enough for the Government to sit back and let this fishing industry die.”
But Ms Prentis said compensation will not be provided and the investigation, which involved “extensive testing, research and analysis”, ruled out dredging, chemical pollution and disease as likely causes.
“A harmful algal bloom, present in the area at the time, was shown in the satellite imagery," said Ms Prentis.
“This was confirmed by the consistent detection of algal toxins in the washed up dead crabs and lobsters.”
She added: “While we concluded that the most likely cause was the harmful algal bloom, we may never know for sure what caused this event.”
She also said Environment Agency will continue to monitor water quality in the area, while the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture conducts further research on the chemical pyridine and parasites, which were both found in some of the crustaceans.
Pyridine was found in some of the crabs, but Defra said the chemical did not cause the deaths and it has been found in crabs in other parts of the country.
Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said people should “accept the evidence” provided by the investigation, which involved several Government agencies.
He said: “If you think all of these organisations would somehow conspire together to hide the real reason for these crustacean deaths, you must be having a laugh. That wouldn’t happen.
“Why would all these leading scientists come together to try and cover this up in some way? It doesn’t make sense.”
The MP, who has an unpaid role on the Teesside Freeport Board, said dredging has been ruled out and the deaths have clearly been caused by a “freak act of nature”, but the Government should look to provide support to protect the 700-year-old fishing industry in Redcar.