There have now been multiple reports of countless dead or dying crustaceans found all along the Teesside coast. Divers in the area have reported seeing dead crabs littering the sea floor and fishermen are experiencing a 95% decline in catches, frequently finding their pots empty.
At the start of November the Environment Agency launched an investigation in collaboration with the various conservation agencies and concerned local councils. Samples of sea water, sediment and crabs have been taken from affected areas for testing. The Environment Agency is focusing their efforts on testing for pollutants, whilst Cefas (The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, a collaborator in the investigation) scrutinise shellfish samples for signs of disease.
The cause of the deaths is as yet unknown but initial investigations have been able to rule out several possibilities. In a recent press release, Hannah Westoby, who works for the Environment Agency as a senior marine monitoring officer, spoke about testing for sewage, seismic activity and underwater cables, saying that “results for... water samples have come back as normal for those locations”.
Cefas have not yet been able to reject an aquatic animal disease as the cause. Head of the Fish Health Inspectorate, Mike Gubbins commented saying, “non have been detected so far”. Cefas will continue to run testing to rule out the possibility completely.
There is no current evidence of a risk to human health, however local residents are being advised to avoid affected areas and any contact with dead crustaceans.
Understanding what is behind the death of so many crabs is important if further deaths are to be prevented. Crabs are a vital food source for many marine animals and play a central role in nutrient cycling for ecosystems. The continuation of crab deaths at such a magnitude will quite possibly have a substantial impact on other marine species.