Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

Shark-finning gangsters assault celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay


If you've ever watched shows like Hell's Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares, you'd know not to cross incendiary celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Well, maybe his shows don't air in Taiwan, because a crew of Taiwanese shark-fin smugglers wasn't too impressed by Ramsay's reputation, holding the TV host at gunpoint and pouring gasoline over him during the taping of a documentary in Costa Rica.

Ramsay was in Central America to film segments of a program dedicated to shark finning, the cruel and deadly practice responsible for endangering shark populations around the world that the U.S. finally outlawed a couple of weeks ago. Shark fins are highly prized in Asia for their use in shark fin soup, and overfishing for their fins has driven many shark populations down 95 percent or more in recent years.

The gasoline-dousing and gun-pointing were actually two separate incidents. Ramsay told The Telegraph that shark-finning gangs "operate from places that are like forts, with barbed-wire perimeters and gun towers." Ramsay was trying to film one of these sites, but was being kept away. "I managed to shake off the people who were keeping us away, ran up some stairs to a rooftop, and looked down to see thousands and thousands of fins, drying on rooftops as far as the eye could see. When I got back downstairs they tipped a barrel of petrol over me. Then these cars with blacked-out windows suddenly appeared from nowhere, trying to block us in. We dived into the car and peeled off."

Later, he managed to convince the crew of one ship to let him on board, where he found and opened a sack "full of shark fins." When he and his film team got back to the wharf, "there were people pointing rifles at us to stop us filming."

Police later showed up and ordered Ramsay and his crew out of the country.

It is unclear how much of this will end up in the finished documentary.

Of course, although Ramsay may love sharks, it's worth noting that he hasn't always been as friendly to other endangered species. His restaurants served bluefin tuna until 2007. He was criticized for recommending that Britons eat skate, a critically endangered fish, as well as for catching and eating endangered eels. He also traveled to Iceland to hunt puffins, which are protected as endangered in the U.K.

"Shark Bait," part of a larger documentary series on sustainable fishing, airs Sunday, January 16 on the U.K.'s Channel 4. No U.S. airdate has been announced.

"Shark Bait" photo courtesy of Channel 4

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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