Thousands of lobsters have been found dead in Yorkshire in recent months, putting the region’s status as one of Europe’s top catch spots at risk.
In autumn last year, thousands of the crustaceans began to wash up along the northeast coast, from Bridlington to Scarborough and Whitby.
Campaigners feared that the mass deaths – which also affected crabs – had been caused by pollution or a chemical leak.
But an investigation by the government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs found no evidence of this.
It said the mass deaths could have “potentially” been caused by a naturally occurring algal bloom – and said it was “unlikely that chemical pollution, sewage or infectious aquatic animal diseases were the cause of the deaths”.
Efforts are now underway to rear juvenile lobsters to replace the thousands that have died.
Joe Redfern, who is running the project at Whitby Lobster Hatchery, said the baby lobsters were needed now more than ever and would be released into the North Sea once they are fully grown.
The 30-year-old said the unexpected deaths had put the livelihood of people working in the fishing industry at risk.
“There are a lot of boats already for sale, people considering moving away to somewhere else,” he told The Times.
“We’ve seen it before with fishing. Norway had a strong lobster fishery in the nineties but that was overfished and collapsed.”
The lion’s share of Yorkshire’s shellfish makes its way onto the plates of restaurants in the Mediterranean, including France, Portugal and Spain.
Mr Redfern warned the situation in the northeast could deteriorate unless conservation measures were brought in.
“It’s in decline — if you speak to anybody, particularly to the guys up around Hartlepool, Teesside, Redcar, everyone is depressed,” he told The Times.
“Everybody says the stocks are under threat. We do hope the hatchery project can be some part of a solution to making sure they are protected.”