The weight of shellfish caught and landed in the UK has dropped by 44% in the last year, a new analysis by Labour has found.
Vessels 10 metres and under, which tend to fish closer to the shore, brought in 1,813 tonnes in January 2022, but a year later this dropped to 1,012, the opposition party said.
The Government’s own figures, compiled by the Marine Management Organisation, showed a drop of 41%.
Labour said the reduction in shellfish catches is having a significant impact on jobs and livelihoods in fishing and coastal communities.
A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said Labour’s focus on vessels under 10 metres does not paint a complete picture, adding that the number of total fishing landings grew by 6% this January compared to last year.
They said: “We know that bad weather was one of several factors affecting the inshore fleet and the figures have no connection with crustacean mortalities in the North East, which took place before the reporting period.
“We are backing our fishing communities with £100m to boost growth and opportunities, including for shellfish vessels.”
Researchers from Durham, Hull, York and Newcastle universities, commissioned by the North East Fishing Collective, found high levels of pyridine in dead crabs, which was later found to be toxic to them.
Modelling also showed that pyridine would be quickly transported along the north-east coast, with the worst affected areas being Hartlepool and Redcar.
A Government report published in January said “it is about as likely as not” that a novel pathogen had caused the deaths, though none was identified.
The scientists also said it was unlikely that pyridine had killed the crabs because they found it to be in too small a quantity in the sediment.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has rejected calls for any further analysis.
In a letter to Sir Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, she said: “Given the extent of the analytical work already undertaken, and further advice, I have decided that it is highly unlikely that we will find the cause and so no further analysis will be undertaken by the Government.”
In response, Mr McMahon criticised the Government for following a “discredited theory” in testing whether an algal bloom had caused the deaths, which was disproved in the January report.
He said it is “vital” that further investigations take place and that dead crustaceans are preserved for testing.
Mr McMahon said: “Sixteen months in and fishers are still waiting for Tory politicians to get their act together and stand up for fishing jobs that have run through local families for generations.
“The Tory Government and Tees Valley mayor attempting to sweep the crustacean die-offs under the carpet isn’t going to fly.
“It is vital that further investigation takes place and that existing crustacean samples are preserved and made available for further testing.
“The next Labour Government will work alongside our fishing and coastal industries so that they can rebuild after months of Tory dither and delay.
“The region deserves better than yet another issue adding to the failed record of a Conservative Government and a Conservative Tees Valley mayor who are big on promises, but small on delivery.”