Dredging: Shellfish

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 31st October 2022.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with reference to the oral evidence session of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 25 October 2022, if she will make an assessment of the implications for her policies of the evidence on the potential impact of dredging on shellfish and crabs; and if she will take steps to pause dredging in the mouth of the River Tees.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Defra policies are evidence based and use the best scientific evidence available. A marine licence to dispose of dredged materials to sea requires the sediments to be characterised to allow the potential impact on the marine environment, including on marine life, to be considered. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is advised by Cefas on what sampling and testing should be carried out for each individual licence application. These requirements are tailored to the dredged site and depend on the local marine environment and any known sources of contamination or historic inputs in the area. Defra’s position on dredging in the mouth of the River Tees has not changed: Defra and its agencies have no current plans to pause dredging in the area.

Defra led a comprehensive investigation into the cause of dead crabs and lobsters that washed up on the North-East coast between October and December last year. HM Government scientists carried out extensive testing for chemicals and other pollutants including pyridine but concluded a naturally occurring algal bloom was the most likely cause.

We recognise the concerns in regard to dredging, but no evidence was found to suggest this was a likely cause. Before a marine licence can be granted to allow dredged sediment to be disposed, samples of dredge material must be tested, and they must meet high international standards protecting marine life before it is permitted to be disposed of at sea. If samples analysed for contaminants do not meet the standards, the disposal to sea of that material will not be licensed.

It has been incorrectly reported in the media that Defra scientists suggested that capital dredging for South Bank Quay should stop. Defra and its agencies have no current plans to pause dredging in the River Tees. The MMO makes licensing decisions based on the best available evidence. Powers under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) can be triggered to suspend, vary or revoke the licence for certain reasons if information comes to light once a marine licence has been granted. These reasons include an increase in scientific knowledge relating to the environment or human health and must be based on robust evidence.

We welcome research carried out by universities around the high number of crab and lobster deaths that occurred in the North-East last year and are keen to review it in detail. As such, the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority for the North-East contacted the researchers and asked for them to share their research in full with Defra and its agencies so that it can be considered carefully. We are yet to receive the data but will review it thoroughly when the researchers are able to share it. It is not possible for conclusions to be appropriately made by regulators, scientific advisors or policy makers without having access to the information in full.

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