Defra publishes the report from a joint agency investigation into dead crabs and lobsters incidents on the north-east coast in late 2021

Defra publishes the report from a joint agency investigation into dead crabs and lobsters incidents on the north-east coast in late 2021

Joint agency investigation into Teesside and Yorkshire Coast Crab and Lobster mortalities

Reports of dead and dying crabs and lobsters found washed up on beaches and in fishing pots were reported throughout October and into December 2021 along parts of the north-east coast of England.

The most significant washups occurred in October.

The incident affected a stretch of coastline stretching approximately from County Durham and Teesside to Robin Hoods Bay, with the fishing community reporting a significant drop in catches to at least 4 nautical miles offshore.

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The Environment Agency immediately launched an emergency investigation, working with a range of UK government agencies including, Cefas, MMO, FSA, UKHSA, and Defra.

The roles of each agency were as followed:

  • Environment Agency – Investigating pollution related incidents.
  • Defra – Coordinating the investigation from December 2021 onwards.
  • Cefas – Investigating disease and biosecurity threats.
  • MMO – Investigating whether licensable activity, including dredging and disposal, cabling and offshore windfarm activity, might have caused the mortality event.
  • NEIFCA – Liaison with local fishing community and intelligence on stranding.
  • Food Standards Agency – Advising on food safety implications
  • UKSHA – Advising on any threat to human health. • Local councils – Local outreach and advice on local areas.

A range of potential causes including licensed dredging activity, chemical contamination, activities related to offshore windfarms, presence of algal blooms and aquatic animal disease were investigated. No single, consistent causative factor was identified.

However, a harmful algal bloom present in the area was identified as of significance and the most likely cause.

The presence of a harmful algal bloom was indicated by satellite imagery and confirmed by the consistent detection of lipophilic algal toxins (specifically the diarrhetic shellfish toxins okadaic acid and dinophysistoxin 2) in washed up dead crab and lobsters, confirming that animals had been exposed to algal toxins.

The significance of these algal toxins in the context of the mortality event is not yet fully understood. This will be explored in Defra funded research at Cefas.

The report says that healthy crabs and lobsters are now being caught in the region and, while crab and lobster stocks will continue to be monitored, the investigation was closed in March 2022.

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