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Experts to investigate Teesside mass crab die-off, government says

The government has responded to claims it has not included experienced researchers in its expert panel review into the deaths of thousands of crabs in Teesside in 2021.

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey wrote in a letter that experts from 11 different organisations, including universities, were a part of the panel, but their identities would be withheld until the report has been published.

Scientists who led research into the mass die-off said they were surprised they were not included in the investigation, with some questioning the potential limitations of the report. 

brown crab on gray sand during daytime

In response to these claims, Coffey wrote: ‘To ensure independence, institutes and individuals with past involvement in assessment of the crustacean mortality have not been included, nor is any member from a Defra agency.

‘Regarding ways of working, the panel will focus on the scientific evidence, including scientific data from key stakeholders, and rely on the diverse expertise of its members to consider all possible causes of crustacean deaths.’

Initially, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the deaths were likely to be the result of an algal bloom, but scientists have said they could have been caused by dredging and fisheries in the area.

A study commissioned by the North East Fishing Collective and conducted by the Universities of York, Newcastle, Durham and Hull found toxic chemicals could have killed the crabs.

Research found high levels of pyridine in the area at the time, an anti-corrosion treatment used on marine infrastructure that can be fatal to crabs. There was also no evidence of an algal bloom big enough to cause mass deaths.

The government says it hasn’t found any evidence of chemical pollution or sewage in the areas and didn’t believe that that dredging caused the event.

However, according to OpenDemocracy, documents show that government officials believed that man-made activity played a role in the deaths, with the Environment Agency (EA) saying ‘the behaviour and longevity mean it is unlikely that a “natural event” caused the deaths.’

The decision not to publicise the names of experts joining the panel has been called ‘unacceptable’ by Labour MP Geraint Davies, who is part of the committee which called the investigation.

Photo by Bithin raj

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