'Nobody wins': Impact of crab deaths still felt 15 months after mass die-off on North East coast

Matin Stew reports on the investigation into the dead crabs

More than a year after thousands of dead crabs first started washing up on North East beaches the effects are still being felt.

The row over what caused the mass die-off along a 70-mile section of the coast has become increasing bitter.

A report has now said a disease or parasite new to UK waters could have been responsible.

An independent panel set up to investigate possible causes has been unable to conclusively say what caused the deaths.

However, a harmful algal bloom was rated as “unlikely”, while the chemical pyridine was “very unlikely” to have been the cause. The report also concluded maintenance dredging of the river was “very unlikely” to have been a cause.

Fifteen months on, fishermen say they are still being impacted, while Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said there had been no winners on either side of the divide.

Mr Houchen had faced calls to cease dredging for the Teesside freeport due to concerns it could disturb toxic chemicals.

While capital dredging for the freeport had not started at the time of the die-off – it began in September 2022 – fishermen had voiced concerns that maintenance dredging carried out in the river could be to blame.

While the new report deems that “very unlikely”, Mr Houchen said there had been some “very real impacts” on the freeport.

He said: “The investors we have been speaking to have delayed investment because of the uncertainty which would be a shame given no work on the freeport started until 11 months after the die-off.

“This whole issue has never been about jobs versus the environment because the jobs we are creating are for the environment.

“That not downplaying the impact for the fishermen. It’s just the fact nobody wins and that’s irrespective of the fishermen’s plight.

“We’ve already asked for support for the fishermen and will continue to do so.

Fishermen say they are still feeling the consequences.

Alan Hodgson, from Hartlepool-based Hodgson Fish, said boats were having to travel further out to sea for their catches, while there were still no velvet crabs on the floor. He said: “I don’t remember a die-off of this magnitude”.

Responding to the panel's report, Joe Redfern from North East Fishing Collective said: “Just a bit deflated really and just in limbo you know. We've not got any conclusions, we're not anywhere closer to knowing if this could happen again tomorrow.

“You know people are already just depressed really just at the state of what they're catching and the future of the industry so it's, yeah, it's challenging and it's difficult to just, again, the can kicked down the road with no real clear answers.”

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