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EU funding for investigation into 'very high levels' of shellfish toxins after dog deaths

PUBLISHED: 15:55 16 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:11 16 May 2019

Two environmental agencies have received £250k in EU funding to investigate levels of shellfish toxins in the east of England after a number of dog deaths. Pictured, two time Crufts winner Maestro on the beach at Wells. Photo: Ian Burt

Two environmental agencies have received £250k in EU funding to investigate levels of shellfish toxins in the east of England after a number of dog deaths. Pictured, two time Crufts winner Maestro on the beach at Wells. Photo: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

Environmental authorities have been granted £250,000 of EU funding to investigate "very high levels" of shellfish toxins found in Norfolk and Suffolk, after a spate of dog deaths last year.

Dog owners in Norfolk told of their fears over walking their pets on the county's beaches after two fatalities occurred in Holkham and Felixstowe in January 2018.

The owners of a husky and a golden retriever said their dogs ingested sea life washed onto the shore before experiencing symptoms including vomiting, breathlessness and paralysis - which indicate paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).

Nine total incidents of illness in dogs were reported during the same two-week period, sparking the multi-agency Operation Blake.

And last year scientists at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, (Cefas), said they had found "strong evidence" linking the deaths to the shellfish toxins causing PSP.

A message for dog owners attached to a Norfolk Coast Path sign on the beach at Cley. Picture: Ian BurtA message for dog owners attached to a Norfolk Coast Path sign on the beach at Cley. Picture: Ian Burt

READ MORE: 'Strong evidence' to suggest East Anglian dog deaths due to shellfish poisoning

Chemical detection tests for paralytic shellfish toxins (PST) were done on marine organisms in the area, and "very high levels" were found in starfish in Norfolk and Suffolk, with the same toxins found in post-mortem and vomit samples from one of the dogs.

Sine the initial incidents, 115 samples from the east coast have been collected, with no tests indicating toxins which could endanger consumers.

READ MORE: Dog owners fear for pets' health after New Year's Eve beach death

Starfish washed up on the beach at Holme on New Year's Eve. Photo: Lisa BromleyStarfish washed up on the beach at Holme on New Year's Eve. Photo: Lisa Bromley

The toxins are usually found in molluscs, but the source of contamination is unknown and requires continued investigation.

In January 2019, the European Maritime and Fisheries Funding (EMFF) granted Cefas and the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) almost £250,000 to "assess and mitigate against" the presence of the toxins in the east of England.

The EMFF, the funding arm of the EU's maritime and fishing policies, gave £248,892.79 towards the joint project, which will involve "laboratory testing of commercial shellfish samples".

READ MORE: Reports of dog dying after eating contaminated fish on Norfolk beach spark warnings

A spokesperson for the project said: "The dog deaths occurred following consumption of marine organisms washed up on beaches after winter storms in early 2018.

"Over a two-week period, nine incidents of illnesses in dogs were reported, including two fatalities.

"Since then there have been no further incidences recorded."

The project's findings will be used to inform the monitoring regime and management of the area's commercial fisheries.

It will run until August 2021.

READ MORE: Did poisonous fish on north Norfolk beach kill golden retriever Hattie?

READ MORE: Dog deaths across East Anglian coastline confirmed as fatal shellfish poisoning

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