Dead seals wash up on beaches in north east after mysterious death of thousands of crustaceans

By Bhvishya Patel for MailOnline

Fishermen have described how their catches dried up ‘overnight’ and their businesses taken to the brink of collapse, after thousands of dead crabs and lobsters were washed up on beaches along the North East of England.

An investigation is under way by the Environment Agency after dead shellfish – in some cases waist deep – began appearing along the Teesside coast between Marske and Saltburn, North Yorkshire, in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, and Seaham, last autumn.

It is understood that lab analysis will test the water for pollution while also analysing the dead marine life for parasites and disease. 

Now, fishing boat owners have described how the discovery of the dead sea creatures has ‘absolutely decimated’ their businesses.  

Ken Clarke, 57, who has fished lobsters and crabs off South Gare for 40 years, as did his father before him, said he had not had a wage for three months.

Paul Harrison (pictured), who owns the Catch of the Day shop in Middlesbrough, said that there were ‘hardly any lobsters’ along the coast now

Fishermen off Teesside's coast say their catches have dried up 'overnight' after dead lobsters and crabs washed up on beaches along the North East of England

Fishermen off Teesside’s coast say their catches have dried up ‘overnight’ after dead lobsters and crabs washed up on beaches along the North East of England

He told Teeside Live: ‘It stopped overnight. It was like somebody flicked a switch.

‘I haven’t had a wage for three months. A lot of people are looking into it. It seems strange, you would think if there’s something there they would find it.

‘I’ve been to meetings nobody seems able to put their finger on anything. The problem seems to be spreading down the coast, all the way to Scarborough.’

Mr Clarke said he fished before Christmas and got just ‘three or four lobsters’ after a full day’s work.

He continued: ‘It’s just not feasible. I’ve had to lay off my crew. You can’t keep crews when you’re not getting paid. It knocks the stuffing out of you.

‘The bigger boats that go out to sea are still catching. If it’s your only job, you’re knackered.

‘We all got a good hammering with [Storm Arwen] too, gear got badly damaged, it all came ashore.

‘As to whether it’s totally killed things off, I don’t know. We’ve got a long wait until the main lobster season in July and August, to see if they come out.

‘I can’t see there being anything before that. I’ve been fishing all my life – I’ve never known anything like this.

‘You get quiet periods, but not stuff dying overnight like this.’

Paul Harrison, who owns the Catch of the Day fish shop in Middlesbrough, said: ‘Along this coast there’s hardly any lobsters now, and for those you can get hold of, the prices have gone silly.

Hundreds of dead crabs on the beach at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, last year

Hundreds of dead crabs on the beach at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, last year

‘I deal with two suppliers. One has jacked in, he’s on about selling his boat because there’s nothing out there to catch.

‘Another lad went out all day for three lobsters, there’s nothing in the pots. It’s terrible, heartbreaking.

‘They are just so upset about it all. I sell quite a lot of crabs and lobsters. They used to catch and then come in the shop and see me.

‘I’ve not been able to get any locally, I have to go a lot further afield every couple of days.

‘Everybody has their theories, it seems to be heading south now. It’s just a big knock-on effect, it’s absolutely decimated things.

‘I know lads that have traps at the top of the Tees, at the Barrage. Everything was dead. ‘

Meanwhile Dave Eland, 74, who has been fishing near the former steelworks in Redcar for 60 years, said he saw crabs ‘dying in their hundreds’.

Mr Eland, who was one of the first to report the dead crabs to the Environment Agency, said: ‘We collect bait down there. I’m down there with my son almost every day.

‘Crabs were dying in their hundreds, if not thousands. It seems a bit of a coincidence that this happened shortly after the dredger turned up. I have 380 traps there.

‘Our traps were turfing dozens and dozens of dead crabs. There were only two live ones, the rest were dead, it was about a 98 per cent wipeout. I’ve got three pots down there.

‘Last time I checked, there were two lobsters in them – both dead as a dodo. I’ve been going down there since I was a kid.

‘That area was dead 30 or 40 years ago, since the clean-up happened worms crabs started coming back. It was absolutely booming for years and years.

Pictured: Dead crabs spotted along the shore at Redcar on the Yorkshire coast

Pictured: Dead crabs spotted along the shore at Redcar on the Yorkshire coast  

‘Now it’s virtually wiped out.’

Some locals have said they are worried dredging work on the Tees could have played a part but Defra has dismissed the theory as ‘speculation’.

And while investigations remain ‘ongoing’, the department has ‘ruled out’ both dredging and chemical pollutants as a likely cause.

James Cole, 52, leader of The Fisherman Association, told Yorkshire Live the problem is working its way south.

‘Fishermen had seen other things come ashore dead too, like octopuses and limpets which had come off the rocks, it would take a nuclear disaster for them to come off the rocks,’ he said.

Mr Cole also claims to have spoken to a fisherman in his 20s from Hartlepool who had been living off £100 wages for the last two months after his fishing business was ruined from the lack of sea creatures to fish. 

He added: ‘He said he was suicidal, he phoned me up crying saying my life and my job are ruined.’

This month a number of dog walkers also claimed their dogs had fallen ill following a walk on the beach at Orcombe Point near Exmouth.