Crab death enquiry: MPs to hear from PD Ports and Environment Agency in parliamentary probe

MPs are hearing evidence today, Tuesday 25 October, about the mass die-off of sea life along the North East coast. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

MPs will hear from key witnesses as part of their inquiry into the mass death of crustaceans along the Teesside and North Yorkshire coast.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee is holding a session on Tuesday 25 October where representatives of PD Ports, the Environment Agency, and a Whitby fishing organisation will give evidence to members.

Managing director of PD Ports Jerry Hopkinson is invited to the committee hearing as the company is the harbour authority at the River Tees, where dredging currently takes place and has done for years.

It comes after a lengthy dispute between fishermen and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) over what caused thousands of dead shellfish to wash up on beaches.

Initially an investigation by DEFRA said the deaths, which began in October 2021, were down to a naturally occurring "algal bloom".

The dead crustaceans washed up in significant numbers at Marske and Saltburn. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees News

But Teesside and North Yorkshire fishermen have insisted this was not the case.

They believe dredging on the River Tees has disturbed pyridine, a chemical once used in steelmaking.

A study by university researchers concluded last month that industrial toxins were the "most likely" cause of the mass deaths.

Dr Gary Caldwell, a lead marine biologist at Newcastle University, told ITV News Tyne Tees the pyridine was "remarkably toxic" to the crabs used in their experiment.

They used less than 25% of the chemical found in dead crabs at Saltburn on healthy crabs from Croquet Island, Northumberland, and found they died within six hours.

Dr Caldwell, who will also give evidence this afternoon, said the crabs died in a "very dramatic fashion" - including violent convulsions and paralysis.

The study was commissioned by the North East Fishing Collective and findings were presented to EFRA.

Days later the committee, which scrutinises DEFRA and can recommend a policy change to them, announced an inquiry into the handling of the deaths.

Committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, branded the situation “disturbing” when he announced the probe.

The science director at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Rachel Hartnell, Environment Agency's deputy director for water and land quality Mark Rice, and the Marine Management Organisation’s head of licensing Trudi Wakelin will also give evidence during the hearing on Tuesday.

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