| 6°C Dublin

Ian O'Doherty: Sharks have suffered enough -- but Ramsay is the final insult

Wow. What a bastard. Frankly, that can be the only response to the news of Gordon Ramsay's sickening hypocrisy.

Ramsay, you may recall, fronted a documentary a couple of weeks back about the disgusting practice of shark finning.

His programme helped to expose the nefarious ways commercial fishermen catch sharks, then cut off their fins for the Japanese and Chinese food markets and then throw the rest of the shark -- still alive and breathing, by the way -- back into the water, where the now-finless shark simply corkscrews down to the bottom of the ocean, to drown a horrible death.

Now, despite all his experience in front of the camera, Ramsay is not a particularly good presenter, but despite this, you could put someone speaking Swahili on screen when discussing this hideous industry and it would still be emotionally devastating.

To be perfectly frank, I was so upset I switched off half-way through.

I've been writing and campaigning against shark finning for nearly all my professional life, and I've seen some hideous footage that has never been aired on television, but nothing can inure you to the sight of a living creature being so callously dismembered and then tossed overboard. It is, frankly, one of the most horrifying and disgusting things you will ever see.

So, while I don't particularly like Ramsay or his shouty schtick, the man went up massively in my estimation for highlighting something that I actually have nightmares about.

And then . . . it has now emerged that only 18 months ago, he went shark fishing and there is footage of him and the boat's captain harpooning a shark and dragging it backwards through the water until it drowned.

That's a level of hypocrisy almost unparalleled in recent television history and any respect I had developed for the man has now been absolutely reversed.

An admission -- I too have gone shark fishing.

But the difference is that I have gone shark fishing off the coast of Mayo -- traditionally the finest shark fishing spots in Europe are off the west coast of Ireland, which a lot of people don't realise -- where the intention is to tag and release (where you label the creatures at the bottom of the fin, stating their size and details; this enables ichthyologists to keep tabs on their movements and size), not to kill these majestic creatures.

And the most depressing thing? The last time I went out from Clew Bay, the summer before last, there wasn't a shark to be seen.

We went out about 25 miles in what used to be some of the busiest waters in Europe for blue sharks and there was . . . nothing, zilch, nada.

I brought this up with the captain of the small boat we were on and he had tears in his eyes as he told me how six months before we went out a long-line Japanese commercial fishing trawler had come along, spent a few days in Ireland's own territorial waters and utterly destroyed the marine ecosystem.

The long lines, the captain told me, stretch for miles and miles and can easily take hundreds, even thousands of large fish at a time.

In fact, he told me with increasing anger that verged on a very understandable racism, how the Japanese trawlers basically rape the sea around the coast of Ireland, but because they actually have more technically advanced radar than our own Irish navy, and have better engines, they can quickly go back to international waters if they feel there are any official ships coming within range and then they wait for half a day before coming back in to continue their dastardly, wicked, deeds.

Look, I'll be honest -- I'm a bit of an obsessive when it comes to sharks; I bloody love these incredible creatures.

I think it probably goes back to the fact that my parents brought me to see Jaws when I was five.

If you did that today, you'd probably be done for child abuse, but now, more than 30 years on, I can still remember the utterly life-changing experiences I had when I watched what, for me, remains to this day the perfect movie.

I remember the fear, obviously; I remember actually scurrying down and hiding behind the seat in front of me when Richard Dreyfuss (although he will always be Hooper to me, no matter what he's in) swam down to Ben Gardner's boat and Gardner's head came at him out of nowhere.

In fact, I remember everything about that film, and what I particularly remember is, as a five-year-old, crying my eyes out at the end, because the shark was only doing what sharks do and the humans had no right to kill him -- although, as we all know, in the book the shark is female.

That movie sparked a life-long love and obsession with sharks that is, frankly, a little bit sad.

My most prized possession, for instance, is a neckchain with a fossilised Megaladon tooth from the Pleistocine era that I bought in Maui a few years ago.

It still scrambles my brain that I can wear something that swam in the water eons before human life even existed and, strangely, even though I am not the least bit superstitious, I wear it only on those rare occasions when someone is daft enough to put me on television -- it is, I suppose, my equivalent of Leo Bloom's 'blue blanky' from The Producers.

So, I admit, I'm a saddo -- but I bloody love those animals and I swear I will never watch another Gordon Ramsay programme again in my entire life.

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent