Dead Crustaceans (North-East Coast)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:55 pm on 28th June 2022.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:55 pm, 28th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered dead crustaceans on the North East coast.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Mr Hollobone. I seem to get you in the Chair quite a lot when I have debates. It is good to see you there.

Our fishing industry in north-east England has been dealt a huge blow in recent months, with catches decimated and businesses on the edge of ruin. The mass die-offs and the reason behind them have been causing serious concern along the north-east coast since the first dead sea creatures were discovered in the early morning of 6 October last year.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has held several calls with local MPs and I recognise its efforts to engage with us. However, there is still a huge amount of concern among our constituents, many of whom feel that the Government have not gone far enough in their investigations and that it is high time Ministers stepped up and provided some financial support to the industries that have been so severely impacted.

DEFRA has not updated its conclusions since last November, when it settled on the hypothesis that a rare algal bloom had caused the deaths. Even then, it was reported that DEFRA had not found one single causative factor, but rather that:

“A harmful algal bloom present in the area coincident with the event was identified as of significance.”

I am aware that the investigation by the Environment Agency, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science and the Marine Management Organisation did examine other possibilities, such as licensed dredging, chemical contamination, activities related to offshore wind farms and aquatic animal disease. The investigation was closed after live and healthy crabs and other crustaceans were found in more recent catches.

However, the die-offs are still ongoing. We had one last December, another this February and a big one in April, with the most recent one occurring just two weeks ago. There is a real sense among the communities affected that the Department has not addressed the later die-offs, especially as the algal bloom was not definitively identified as the cause even back in the autumn.

It was for that reason that I wrote last month to the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, Victoria Prentis, who is here today, requesting that the inquiry be reopened. To my deep disappointment, my request was refused by her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow. I have therefore brought the issue to this Chamber in the hope that the voices of the affected communities will now be listened to.

The local fishing industry are still reporting higher than average amounts of dead crustaceans in its catches. I am told that fishermen from Hartlepool, Redcar and Whitby are still returning negligible catches from our inshore waters. Just last week, a crew set off from Hartlepool with 50 pots to catch lobsters. When they retrieved the pots, there were only four lobsters; of those four, only one was alive. I heard of another crew whose total catch was one crab and seven lobsters. Again, three lobsters were dead and two of the living lobsters were on their backs, already dying.

Considering those numbers, it seems that the decision to close the investigation was premature, and that it is possible that there is more to this issue than the hypothesised algal bloom—something the North East Fishing Collective also believes to be the case.