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Durham Greens working at national level on Tees ecocide

Dead crab on a beach

County Durham Greens have been working with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas to push the Government to find the cause of the massive die-off of shellfish and crustaceans off the North East coast.

Crab and lobster populations, from Teesside to as far south as Scarborough, have been decimated since September 2021.

Some scientists and fishermen have linked the deaths to the dredging and subsequent dumping of toxic silts from the Tees Estuary as part of the development of a freeport/investment zone.

The Tees has a particularly toxic legacy from heavy industry, including chemicals and steelmaking.

Newcastle University Marine Biologist Gary Caldwell believes the cause of the die-offs to be pyridine, a chemical present in coal tar and used chiefly as a solvent.

The Government department responsible for healthy seas, DEFRA, originally attributed the die off to an algal bloom, but pressure from scientists and the fishing communities along the coast led to DEFRA appointing an Independent Expert Assessment of Crustacean Mortality in the North Sea, which reported in January 2023.

It concluded that the cause of the die-off is ‘as likely as not’ the result of a pathogen new to UK waters and dismissed pyridine poisoning as ‘unlikely.’

County Durham Green Party member and national party spokesman on nature, Jonathan Elmer, has been working with colleagues in Teesside and North Yorkshire to keep pressure on the Government.

To this end, Jonathan sent wording for a Parliamentary question on the issue to Caroline Lucas’s office.

Caroline asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether her Department is taking steps to identify the novel pathogen cited as the cause of the level of mortality; and if she will make a statement.

Mark Spencer MP, Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, replied: “The independent panel considered a wide range of possible causes for the deaths. The panel considered a novel pathogen to be the most likely cause of mortality, despite no direct evidence for such a pathogen. I am now considering carefully if further analysis by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) can ascertain conclusively the cause of this unusual mortality.”

Jonathan said: “Given the scale of the die-off and the environmental and financial impact on fishing communities, this is a rather lame response. The Government should be pulling out all the stops to find the cause of this ecocide in order to prevent a repeat of these devastating events.”