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Teesside Sea Life

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

3. What steps she is taking to determine the cause of the die-off of crustaceans and other sea life off the Teesside coast. (904407)

Following a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-led multi-agency investigation last year, I commissioned a further review, which reported in January, regarding the issue that affected crustaceans. It ruled out some of the prevailing theories, including the role of pyridine, and the view of the independent expert panel was that finding something to which we can attribute the cause with certainty is unlikely. However, we have continued to monitor this. In Hartlepool this month there have been anecdotal reports of sudden drops in the number of prawns and Norway lobster. The scale is unknown, but the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science has undertaken precautionary sampling and testing for disease and pathogens.

When 11-year-old Erin-Rose Cawley from Redcar was asked to write a speech for school, she wrote:

“The year is 2019 and our beaches have just received the Blue Flag meaning our beaches are some of the country’s best. Fast forward two years to beaches knee deep in dead, twitching crabs—a die off that was a never before seen phenomenon.”

Will the Minister tell Erin-Rose what the Government are going to do to ensure our dead sea is brought back to good health?

CEFAS has not received any reports of similar crab or crustacean mortality events since what happened in 2021, and a significant review—[Interruption.] A significant review has been undertaken already. I really do not think it is in the best interests to continue to challenge expert scientists who have undertaken that review and ruled out the theory that the hon. Gentleman has been pushing for some time now.

I sat with fishers a few weeks ago, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), to hear about the impact that the Teesside crustacean die-off has had on the livelihoods of local fishers. Let me tell the Secretary of State what they said:

“We’re finished. There’s nothing left to catch.”

“No-one listens. We’re just fishermen!”

“We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for a roadmap to get back on track.”

“Levelling up? They’ve levelled Teesside down”.

Working people—the grafters of this country and the foundation of our food security—are being ignored. It is wrong that public figures, instead of stepping up like true public servants, are acting like Houchen’s henchmen and pound-shop goons, closing down debate and legitimate challenge. Well, it will not work—this is not going away. Will the Secretary of State take a different course and meet Stan Rennie and the North East Fishing Collective with me to finally get to the bottom of this and give them the answers they deserve?

I am really disappointed by that. The shadow Secretary of State has basically impugned the integrity of the chief scientific adviser of DEFRA.

The hon. Gentleman has just, with his words, done that, and I am really concerned about that. This issue is very important. That is why we undertook a further independent review. The chief scientific adviser of DEFRA brought in more people.

The shadow Secretary of State talks about the people who are affected, and I understand that. The impact is such that the fishermen are having to go out to about 9 miles compared with the normal 2 to 3 miles. The inshore fisheries and conservation authority has reported to the Department that there is no particular change in the levels in that area. I am conscious that that may not be the impact for those individuals there. I have met other MPs in the area, and there are funding opportunities available, which might be for reinvestment in equipment to help them go further afield more regularly.

I do not need to meet with them, because there has already been investigation into this, and the role is to make sure we do what we can to support the fishermen, including through the seafood fund and the fisheries and seafood scheme, which is now open.