North Yorkshire Council to vote on motion calling for public inquiry into 'devastating' shellfish deaths

A public inquiry into shellfish deaths that have affected the county’s coastline could be supported by North Yorkshire Council if opposition groups have their motion approved.
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Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors have put forward a motion for the first full meeting of North Yorkshire Council which calls for a public inquiry into “unexplained die-offs and wash-ups” of crustaceans and fish “along the North Yorkshire and Cleveland coast since October 2021”.

If approved, North Yorkshire Council would call on Thérèse Coffey, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, to convene a public inquiry “with powers to compel testimony and the release of all forms of evidence in order to address public concern about this issue”.

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 17.

Thousands of dead shellfish have washed up dead across the Yorkshire Coast.Thousands of dead shellfish have washed up dead across the Yorkshire Coast.
Thousands of dead shellfish have washed up dead across the Yorkshire Coast.
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It comes as local fishermen have said that their livelihoods are at risk due to significantly reduced catches which many blame on dredging in the Tees, and have called on the Government for further testing.

However, Dr Coffey, the secretary of state, recently ruled out further investigations while appearing before the Efra committee which is chaired by the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, Sir Robert Goodwill.

Dr Coffey said: “The key thing that the panel did conclude significantly and ruled out was that it was to do with the pyridine, but that it was a novel pathogen.”

An independent crustacean mortality expert panel (CMEP) set up by the Government to look into the deaths also said that “it is about as likely as not that a pathogen new to UK waters – a potential disease or parasite – caused the unusual crab mortality”.

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However, the motion appears to question the panel’s findings and would mandate North Yorkshire Council to “note with concern… claims that recent capital dredging in the Tees estuary has resulted in the disposal of contaminated sediment at sea”.

The motion also notes “Defra’s failure to provide a conclusive scientific explanation for these die-off events or to set out a plan for research and action to avoid future recurrences”.

While the motion calling for a public inquiry has been proposed by Labour Cllr Neil Swannick and Liberal Democrat Cllr Bryn Griffiths, there has been cross-party concern about the impact of the shellfish deaths on fishing communities, particularly in Whitby.

Calls for financial support to those affected have been made by politicians across the county including Alison Hume, the Labour Party’s parliamentary candidate for Scarborough and Whitby.

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Sir Robert Goodwill, the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby has also told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that “there seems to be a good case for giving some support”.

The motion that has been proposed for the upcoming meeting concludes: “The issue of crustacean die-off is a serious issue with devastating consequences for the socio-economic and environmental future of the east coast.

“The need for a public inquiry is the obvious next step.”