Fishermen have spoken of the terror at Teesworks, which is set to take place next year after a mass die-off of marine life threatens their livelihood.

MPs on the environment, food and rural affairs select committee heard from Teesside and North Yorkshire fishermen and scientists at an emergency meeting on the marine life crisis last year.

Locals claim the North Sea is going through an “extinction episode” and say dredging could be the “final nail in the coffin” for the industry.

The mass die-off led to huge numbers of crustaceans washing up on Teesside’s shores last October and locals have been reporting similar incidents ever since.

Read more: Death toll in North East LIVE – Fishermen debate in Parliament

The Northern Echo: Locals claim the North Sea is going through an 'extinction episode' and say dredging could be the 'final nail in the coffin' for the industryLocals claim the North Sea is going through an ‘extinction episode’ and say dredging could be the ‘last nail in the coffin’ for the industry (Image: The Northern Echo)

DEFRA ruled it was due to an algal bloom, but some academics believe dredging that unearthed the pyridine was the cause. PD Ports, the authority that manages the River Tees, claims it carries out technical dredging all year round, but there is no one to blame.

Hartlepool fisherman Stan Rennie gave an impassioned testimony to MPs at a meeting on Tuesday, saying he believed the North Sea was going through an “extinction episode” and said the North East had been forgotten by the government.

“My lobster catch is down 80%,” he said, “there’s nothing in the pots.”

Whitby Commercial Fisheries Association secretary Joe Redfern spoke about the impact of the crisis on people’s lives. He added: “A lot of people just felt that there was a lack of support, a lack of trust, a lack of hope in the industry.

And Mr Rennie said half of Hartlepool’s fishing fleet was out of action and the industry had suffered job losses in the aftermath. The fisherman added that lobster catches have dropped by 50%, and velvet and brown crabs by 100%.

Mr Rennie’s working days have doubled and he now travels an extra 90 minutes a day to get out of the kill zone to fish because he doesn’t want to sell what he wouldn’t eat.

“We have a proud heritage,” he said. “We are proud of the people of the Northeast. We fight to the last.”

Mr Redfern told MPs: “The fishing community is absolutely terrified that if the next round of dredging goes ahead there will be nothing left and it will be a complete nail in the coffin.”

The Northern Echo: “We fear that if the next round of dredging goes ahead, it will be the end of the North East fishing industry” (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

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The committee also heard from Dr. Gary Caldwell, one of the authors of a recent independent report on the mass die-off, which concluded that “pyridine in seawater is highly toxic to crabs even at low levels.”

The panel also heard from agencies and scientists with opposing views on the cause of the mass deaths.

PD Ports director Gerry Hopkinson said the dredger was brought in after the slip, but said it was not to blame.

Mr Hopkinson said: “It is a fortuitous coincidence that the dredger arrived when the crustacean die-off occurred. Frankly, I think we’re looking in the wrong direction.

“I absolutely understand the challenges these guys have faced. I remember a guy named Pinky saying to me, “When was the last time you got paid? Because I was not paid last month or last month.’

“There’s no pleasure in listening to a man tell you that. You can’t help but question your own moral compass.’

Teesworks says it only started dredging in September 2022 and is currently depositing the sediment on land, with no disposal at sea until 2023.

A spokesman for South Tees Development Corporation said: “We continue to adhere to all legal standards and requirements as required. The Mayor of Tees Valley continues to seek financial support from the Government for those fishermen whose livelihoods have been affected by this problem.’

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