EFRA Committee asks for much more detail on the independent inquiry panel of experts assigned to reinvestigate mass sea life deaths in NE England
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has written to the government asking for much more detail on the independent panel of experts it agreed to set up to reinvestigate the mass die-off of crustaceans (mostly crab and lobster) off the northeast coast of England from December 2021.
The Chair of the Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, to conduct the review in an open, transparent and collaborative way. He called on the government to publish the panel’s terms of reference and membership. He also asked the Secretary of State to explain how the panel would work, including how it would ensure all points of view are considered.
The mass deaths of crustaceans are having a profound and lasting impact on the local fishing communities since it began in the autumn of 2021. A number of issues had been blamed on the deaths from the dumping of dredged materials to algae blooms.
On 15 November 2022, Fisheries Secretary, Mark Spencer confirmed in a letter to the EFRA Committee Chair, that an independent panel would be established to assess the evidence and explanation for the high crab and lobster mortality. The Fisheries Minister said that confirmed Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor Gideon Henderson, who has not previously been involved in considering this issue, would liaise with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance to establish the independent group.
At that time, Fisheries Minister Mark Spencer said:
“I recognise fishing communities in the North East want as thorough an assessment as possible into the crab and lobster deaths last year.
“Defra’s investigation concluded that the most likely cause was an algal bloom, but we have always recognised this is a complex area of science and have remained open to further research.
“That’s why it is right that all the evidence is now assessed by independent experts and I look forward to receiving their advice.”
Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Gideon Henderson, said:
“The death of a large number of crustaceans last year in North East England was unusual. The causes have been assessed, informed with a wide range of measurements, by Government agencies and by university researchers, with more than one explanation put forward to explain the deaths.
“The increased sea-life mortality has important consequences for local communities and it is important we understand its cause. I have discussed the issue with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and look forward to working with him to convene a panel of relevant experts from outside government to re-examine all available data and consider this matter carefully.”
Responding to the letter from the government, the Chair of the EFRA Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, said:
“It’s great that the Department is to establish a proper scientific inquiry into this tragedy, which has had a big impact on our coastal Yorkshire economy. We need to know the cause of these mass sea life deaths to make sure we can prevent it happening again.
“But meanwhile many communities of fishers and potters – who rely on these lobsters and crabs for their livelihoods – have suffered a great deal. I would ask the government to look again at long term solutions. The time it takes for some of these creatures to grow to full size can be several years. We need to think about the need to restock the area as soon as possible.”
The Committee held a hearing into the mass die-off on 25 October.