TV chef Gordon Ramsay has been branded a hypocrite after going on a shark fishing trip.
Only two weeks after fronting a heartfelt documentary campaigning for an end to the slaughter of sharks, newly-released evidence shows him straining to land a 7ft endangered specimen on a fishing trip to Florida.
Now the charity that backed his TV plea is questioning whether he can continue as its patron.
In his Channel 4 programme Shark Bait he passionately attacked the wanton killing of 70 million sharks a year to make the soup, with each one tossed back into the sea to die after its fins are sliced off with a machete. During the programme he admired sharks in an aquarium and gushed: “They are beautiful unique individuals.”
He was shown going on a shark-hunt in Costa Rica and looking horrified as he declared: “This is hard to watch.”
Then, using the f-word 20 times, he persuaded restaurants to stop serving the soup, which is popular in London’s Chinatown as well as in China.
Ramsay’s pleas for restaurants to stop serving shark fin soup led to him being named a patron of the Sharks Trust.
Trust chairman Richard Peirce said after being told of Ramsay’s shark-fishing: “We’re extremely concerned. In no way would we condone the targeting of sharks for trophy purposes.”
Ramsay was in Pompano, Florida, in the summer of 2009 to film the US version of Kitchen Nightmares when he sought out fishing crew Happy Snappers.
Captain Harold Heuff said Ramsay, his assistant and crew, spent hours drinking Corona beers, eating gourmet sandwiches and catching fish in 85F (30C) temperatures. When the chef noticed a mackerel had been bitten in half he approached the captain.
“He asked me what had bitten it,” said the 44-year-old skipper.
“I said, ‘Probably a shark.’ And he said, ‘What’s the chances of us catching it?’”
Captain Heuff told him the chances were pretty good and the chef instructed the crew to go after it.
After hooking the bull shark the Captain told Ramsay to sit in the “fighting chair” – where he toiled for an hour to reel it in. “It was a big one,” said Captain Heuff. “But he stayed with it. He is a strong guy.”
After the 250lb bull shark had been reeled in, Capt Heuff killed it. The procedure involves hooking the shark with a harpoon and dragging it backwards for 10 minutes. It “drowns” because its gills do not work that way.
Ramsay had so much fun he booked a second trip when he caught a 9ft hammer head shark. Ramsay tipped the captain and crewman £400.
The Shark Trust’s Mr Peirce added: “It’s very regrettable that he didn’t take the opportunity during the filming of the programme to say he couldn’t believe it that, ‘I actually caught and killed one of these animals.’ “If he did that he’d be in a different position now.
We’ve asked him for an explanation. No one would expect us to get rid of a new patron who’s done a lot of good without speaking to him first.”
Marie Levine of the Shark Research Institute said: “It is totally irresponsible to kill a shark knowing how few are left in our seas. It’s hypocritical and plain wrong. We would not have someone like that as our patron.” A spokesman for Ramsay said: “This was in the summer of 2009, over a year before Gordon first talked to Channel 4 about making a film about sharks.
“It was through making his programme Shark Bait that Gordon was made aware that not only are sharks endangered but the cruel and inhumane practice of finning, something Gordon had never heard of and certainly never done, was commonplace. Gordon would no longer support any type of shark fishing.”
Last night Ramsay’s spokesman said the chef had tried to contact the Shark Trust but they were unable to speak to him so he had sent them a note.
The spokesperson added: “This was a fishing trip in the summer of 2009, over a year before Gordon first talked to Channel 4 about potentially making a film about sharks.
“It was through making this programme – Shark Bait – that Gordon was made aware that not only are sharks endangered but the cruel and inhumane practice of finning – something Gordon had never heard of before and certainly never done – was commonplace.
“Gordon would no longer support any type of shark fishing and hopes that viewers who watched Shark Bait will be educated like he was, to support these endangered species.”