Raymond Blanc: My mission is to fight against intensive harvesting of the seas


Raymond Blanc’s eyes sparkle as he remembers an old love. “My first fish was a big tench and I kissed her.” Laughing with seductive Gallic passion, he recalls picking the animal out of the water and caressing it with joy. “I knew it was a she because she had those sparkling lips!” he adds. “I was so happy, but I ate her immediately.” Ooh la la.

Since his early days catching his dinner in the stream near his childhood home, the colourful chef has lost none of his devotion to fish. It is a subject that raises anger as much as pleasure within him, however. Blanc – who was the first high-end restauranteur to certify that every salmon or tuna, haddock or plaice on his menu at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxford had been caught sustainably – has been leading a campaign against overfishing for years. Believing that converting consumers, politicians, fishermen and cooks to responsible use of the seas and rivers is essential if we are not to risk pushing our fish stocks to extinction, he says it is his mission to fight against “intensive harvesting of the seas, the damage, the extraordinary mindless voracious appetite of fishing everything, so you have nets dragging, killing every single life from the sea floor”.

It is very much a live issue. Talks are being held today at the European Union about possible changes to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy – whose rules on quotas are commonly held to blame for the problems – with the Scottish Fisheries Secretary, Richard Lochhead, warning that as much as £1bn-worth of fish could be wastefully thrown back dead into the sea by the combined European fleet over the next ten years unless action is taken.

As public awareness of the problem has increased over the past two years, the situation has improved somewhat. The availability of fish and seafood products certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council increased by 41 per cent in British shops last year. And last month Blanc helped judge the Sustainable Fish category at the Sustainable City Awards, organised by the City of London Corporation. This prize recognises the efforts British restaurants are making to ensure their fish suppliers are ethically sound, won by the chain Feng Sushi.

But the problem is far from solved. Overfishing and the practice of throwing dead fish back into the ocean – in order to contrive to keep within EU quotas – still continue, with potentially devastating consequences.

Only last month MPs on the environment and rural affairs committee called for fish discarding to be allowed to continue until 2020. That was despite the Common Fisheries Policy recently being branded as a “catastrophic” failure in the European Parliament following a report stating that 90 per cent of fish stocks are overfished.

Blanc is far from alone in campaigning for sustainability in the industry – the TV chef High Fearnley-Whittingstall recently calling for people to bombard the EU with messages on Twitter calling for reform – but he has long been one of its leading proponents.

“Take a government, any government, French or English – they look to the short term, to be re-elected for the wrong reasons,” says Blanc, admitting he is “frustrated” at the challenge of coaxing real action out of politicians. “Everything we do in life is for the short term and that can be very dangerous because we suck the animals alive out of the seas for short term gratification. We just harvest everything, by every single murderous method, not only killing the fish but all the breeding ground on the sea floor.”

“Every nation is fighting its own ground to increase the quotas and that is wrong because in the long term they will go to the wall,” he adds with disdain. “It’s called national interest and it is the most disgusting thing on Earth. National interests are to the detriment of their own people in the long term.”

Just as Blanc cannot disguise his pure love for food, nor is he a man who can hide his disgust when things do not satisfy him. He believes part of the reason that things were allowed to get so bad in the fishing industry is that Britain had stopped caring about the quality of what was being served up. And his memory of his first taste of British fish and chips, ordered on the ferry from Calais to Dover when he first came to the UK in 1972, provokes another outpouring of emotion.

“The fish arrived in 10 seconds. I couldn’t believe how fast it was. Normally it takes five or ten minutes, but no – bang, bang! I could smell it and I started to cough because there was so much vinegar on the chips, and the chips were a terrible grey, but mostly what shocked me was when I saw a square fish on my plate – I’ve never seen a square fish. I couldn’t believe it, it was a disaster!”

It was a foretaste of what he would encounter in the ports and fishmarkets too.

“I had fights with fishmongers.” The laugh has gone now; he is deadly serious. “I would take their fish and I would throw it away,” he says forcefully, recalling that the produce was in such a bad state that he could “smell it from 50 yards away”.

A renaissance in fine cuisine and food education in the UK means he no longer gets in punch-ups at Billingsgate fish market. Some of the credit for this undoubtedly belongs to campaigning TV chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Blanc himself. That’s not to say that he thinks all his counterparts have made such a valuable contribution.

“What Hugh Whittingstall is doing – sorry, his name, I always mess it up because it’s quite a mouthful for a Frenchman – is fantastic,” he says. “Rather than beating up somebody on television, sensationalising violence, and devaluing food to millions of people, I’d rather see a chef like Whittingstall or Jamie.”

Violence? Could he hinting at his old rival Gordon Ramsay perhaps? “I never get personal with anyone,” replies Blanc. Yet Ramsay seems to epitomise everything he just said he didn’t like. “Well, maybe so…” he says with a broad smile that breaks into a laugh in seeming admittance at being caught, “I had no idea!” You can’t fool us, Raymond.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk