Algal bloom ‘significant’ in mass deaths of crabs and lobsters, report says

A probe into the thousands of dead and dying crustaceans on North Sea beaches last year did not find a “single, consistent, causative factor”.

Hundreds of dead crabs on the beach at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool (Paul Grainger/PA)
Hundreds of dead crabs on the beach at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool (Paul Grainger/PA)

An investigation into thousands of dead and dying crabs and lobsters washed up on North Sea beaches last year did not identify a clear cause.

But a harmful algal bloom in the area at about the same time was identified as being of significance, a report from a joint agency investigation into the incident said.

The crustaceans washed ashore along parts of the north-east coast of England between October and December, with dying animals “twitching” and displaying lethargic behaviour and the inability to right themselves from on their backs.

There were distressing scenes of large numbers of dead and dying lobsters and crabs on beaches, while fishing crews warned that sparse catches offshore following the event were “catastrophic” for their livelihoods.

An investigation by the Environment Agency, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) examined a range of potential causes.

A harmful algal bloom present in the area coincident with the event was identified as of significance

Agencies' report

They included licensed dredging, chemical contamination, activities related to offshore windfarms, the presence of algal blooms and aquatic animal disease.

No “single, consistent, causative factor” was found, according to the report from the government agencies, though it concluded it was unlikely dredging, chemical or sewage pollution or animal disease were the cause.

It said: “A harmful algal bloom present in the area coincident with the event was identified as of significance.”

The presence of the harmful algal bloom – a rapid increase in the population of algae which can release toxins into the water and affect other wildlife – in late September was indicated by satellite images.

Tests on dead crabs and lobsters washed up in the incident, which affected a stretch of coastline stretching from County Durham and Teesside to Robin Hood’s Bay, confirmed they had been exposed to algal toxins.

The report said the significance of these algal toxins in the context of the deaths was not yet fully understood and Government-funded research will look into the issue.

It also said healthy crabs and lobsters are now being caught in the area and the investigation is closed.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in