Mystery marine deaths: Government needs to support Yorkshire's fishermen, says industry chief

The Government may soon need to step in and provide financial support to Yorkshire fishermen who are struggling to make a living because thousands of crabs and lobsters have died under mysterious circumstances, an industry leader has warned.

The dead crustaceans have washed ashore on the Yorkshire and North East coasts over the last four months and the crews say they cannot catch enough to cover their costs.

An investigation into the cause is ongoing but some fishermen have claimed the creatures died because of dredging of the River Tees, which is part of the Teesside Freeport project, has released toxic substances into the water.

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The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), which is leading an investigation, has dismissed this theory and said samples of dredge material are required to meet the highest international standards before it is disposed of at sea.

Dead crabs washed up in Saltburn

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the York-based National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO) said: “It's a big issue on the coast and for those fishermen that are affected, it really is very serious.

“If this continues over an extended period, we would make the case to the Government that the industry needs support in order to survive.

“If it's proven to be a pollution event, I think there would be a case for compensation for lost earnings. If it's a natural event, there's a different argument for support, but it's still there.”

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The NFFO has repeatedly raised the issue with Defra and Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill, who recently called for answers in Parliament.

Mr Deas added: “The fishermen in the area are pretty clear they think it's a pollution event related to dredging.

“I’ve spoken to the chief scientist looking into it and they've looked at a range of contaminants and not come up with anything yet. They've also looked at the range of diseases, but nothing really fits.

“The most likely candidate from the scientist’s point of view, was an algal bloom, which can extract oxygen from the water column.”

Chemical pollution, sewage leaks, undersea cabling or seismic survey activity have also been ruled out, but Defra said scientists are still working to establish the cause and keep fishermen updated.

Dead seals have also washed up on beaches in Whitby and the North East in recent weeks, but Defra said there is no evidence to suggest they are linked to the lobster and crab deaths.

Scientists are still trying to work out why thousands of sea birds washed up dead in North Yorkshire and other areas of the east coast last year.

People began finding the guillemots and razorbills in September and many said they appeared to be emaciated.

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said its investigation could take another four months, but it suspects there may have been an issue with the birds’ food supply.

It is also trying to establish whether the deaths are linked to an incident in Orkney and Shetland, which saw around 100 puffins die over three weeks.