Tête à Tête with Chris Gorell Barnes

With a Spring-Summer Collection for 2014 borne of a maelstrom of oceanic inspirations, we have made it our joint mission to assist in the fight against marine pollution, overfishing and destruction of marine life, through partnering with one of the strongest teams of conservationists today: BLUEBLUE’s mission statement is the active and effective protection of 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, delivered through a network of marine reserves and private sector led solutions in the sea. We aked co-founder of Blue - Chris Gorell Barnes - to talk about the foundation, the dangers of overfishing and the future.


read more

KENZINE: Could you explain to us what The Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) is and who is behind it?
Chris Gorell Barnes: Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) is a UK registered charity set up in 2010 by some of the team behind the award winning documentary film 'The End of the Line'. The team being Charles Clover, BLUE’s Chairman who wrote the book and both George Duffield and myself, Chris Gorell Barnes, BLUE’s Co-founders and Trustees. BLUE aims to significantly help fix the largest solvable problem on our planet - the crisis in our oceans - by protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. When BLUE began its work only 1% of the world’s oceans were protected. It has since dramatically increased, but still only 2.8% is protected.


K: What are the dangers of overfishing?
C.G.B.: It is difficult to know where to start as the impacts of overfishing can and are having such a powerful knock-on effect on some of the most critical ecosystems on our planet – ecosystems that don’t just support marine life but also in turn are of fundamental importance to human existence. Obviously, commercial fishing can lead to the extinction of certain key species if left unmanaged. The resulting impacts of dwindling fish stocks are then felt by those millions of people worldwide whose livelihoods and ability to feed their families are directly reliant on the sea, and eventually by extension the rest of the global population too. One billion people rely on fish and seafood as their main source of protein and 200 million people depend on fishing for their livelihoods. A world without fish is simply inconceivable. Then there are all the complex scientific impacts of overfishing to the many other species that are part of the same complex ecosystems, from corals to the algae that helps absorb up to 50% of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than the Amazon rainforests in fact. If overfishing is allowed to continue at its present rate, the long-term consequences for all of us could be ultimately catastrophic.


K: Dangers of overfishing are not only limited to the oceans but the environment as a whole. Could you tell us a bit more about the interdependence relationships between marine, terrestrial and space environments?
C.G.B.: Put simply, the oceans produce over half of the oxygen we breathe and currently absorb over half the CO2 generated by human activity. You don’t have to be a scientist to see how serious the implications for all land-based life could be if these crucial oceanic ‘life support systems’ are allowed to slip into terminal decline.  Healthy oceans can form a buffer against acidification.


K: From an economical stand point, about 200 million people financially depend on fishing. How could we reconcile economic need and environmental impact?
C.G.B.: You are right that millions of people worldwide are either directly or indirectly reliant on fishing for their income. And of course it would not be right to introduce policies that leave these people jobless and unable to feed their families.  Almost always better management of the fish stocks would actually provide a higher economic return, as an economic study BLUE has done on the Atlantic Bluefin tuna has demonstrated.  The secret, as enlightened organisations like BLUE are demonstrating, is to introduce quota systems and marine protected areas (MPAs) that involve the fishermen directly in their management, removing the “Us-verses-Them” mentality that has seen previous attempts at fisheries management fall short. At the same time, national governments need to be firmer in their dealings with commercial fishing lobbyists, to ensure legislation balances commercial, social and environmental imperatives more effectively than is sadly the case at present in many places.


K: As of today there are many endangered fish species: is it possible to find a list somewhere?
C.G.B.: From a consumer’s point of view, reliable sources would come from online fish rating guides set by either the Marine Conservation Society fishonline in UK, Monterey Bay Seafood Watch in US or WWF seafood guides in other countries. The guides allow consumers to check which species of fish are ok to eat or which you need to avoid. If you want to find out which restaurants are making efforts to conserve wild fish stocks  in UK, France, Spain, US, Belgium and Switzerland then visit our sister company fish2fork.com.


K: Bluefin Tuna is so rare today that certain pieces are estimated at over a million dollar on certain markets. How did it become possible?
C.G.B.: Really it’s just a simple case of supply and demand. Bluefin tuna were plentiful not that long ago but as fishing technology has evolved, the odds are hugely stacked in the fishermen’s favor and the tuna no longer have much of a chance. At the same time, the demand from countries like Japan and various high-end restaurants worldwide that should know better by now has seen Bluefin become almost the ‘foie gras of the sea’ – ethically indefensible, increasingly rare and priced accordingly. There has been some improvement in the management of the Atlantic Bluefin tuna, precisely because of the campaign around our film, but there has yet to be full recovery and other, related species in the Pacific are in a dire state. Think of a world where similar supply and demand issues mean that ‘everyday’ species like cod and sea bass cost the same as Bluefin tuna – this is part of the scenario BLUE and its allies are working hard to avoid.


K: Asia is one of the most impacted areas by overfishing even though its population depends a lot on fish proteins. Isn't it a paradox?
C.G.B.: Well, it’s actually the perfect example of how we can’t expect to take unlimited amounts of fish from the ocean on an endless basis. There has to be balance. People need to understand that if they are going to continue to rely on fish as a mainstay of their diets, their fish stocks need to be managed accordingly and they should also explore alternative species aside from their staples like tuna. Farmed fish is obviously another important part of the equation and certainly not without its issues, either.


K: It would be unthinkable to find meat of endangered species in our plates such as rhinoceros or tiger. However, we do find a lot of endangered species of fish on the menus of many restaurants. Is overfishing still an unknown topic?
C.G.B.: The Rhino point is a good analogy – eating a Bluefin tuna is in many ways no better than eating a rare land animal. Part of the problem is a stubborn resistance by many high-end restaurant and hotel chains to remove these critically-endangered species from their menus. At the same time, greater public education is needed. People should feel as much empathy with a Bluefin tuna, shark or sea bass as they do with a veal calf or foie gras goose. There will always be a depressing minority who will carry out consuming endangered species regardless but we also see signs that public opinion is increasingly starting to shift in favour of protection for the more at-risk fish species. Ultimately these chefs need to ask themselves whether they would be comfortable serving gorilla or elephant steaks and, if not, why is it okay to advertise Bluefin tuna or shark on their menus?


K: One of your main goal is to protect the marine life by creating protected areas in the oceans. How does it work?
C.G.B.: BLUE’s entire model is focused on the importance of creating greater numbers of marine protected areas (MPAs) or reserves – areas under formal legal protection from certain forms of fishing or, in some cases, any fishing at all, as well as creating other conservation partnerships in the sea. There is a strong body of scientific research that demonstrates the potential of marine reserves to help reverse the current general decline in ocean health and fish stocks. When BLUE was founded in 2010, just one per cent of the world’s total ocean surface was under protection. Today that figure stands at 2.8 per cent but through our work and that of our peers, we want to see at least 10 per cent of total global ocean under active and effective protection by 2020. By targeting primarily foundations, high-net-worth individuals and corporates we are also engaging those with the funds available to make a genuine difference quickly.


K: In order to protect oceans, one of the solutions we found was farming. Today it is criticized for many reasons. Could you explain why this practice is very harmful for the marine life?
C.G.B.: This is a complex issue even by conservation standards. Obviously fish farms can offer a sustainable source of fish if managed effectively. However they can also be very detrimental to the health of their own fish and surrounding ecosystems if not managed appropriately. So I think it’s safe to say that the jury is still out. That said, as with farming on land, there are many examples of small-scale fish farms that are doing things right and we would obviously support these examples as part of the solution to the current ocean crisis.


K: Everybody can do a little something in order to protect the oceans. Could you give us tips that can have a big impact in the long run?
C.G.B.: The best thing individual consumers can do is to scrutinize the fish they eat more closely – specifically, what is the species, where was it caught and what fishing method was used? Look out for on-pack sustainable certification labels such as ‘MSC’ (Marine Stewardship Council for certifying sustainable seafood) avoid any brands/products that don’t demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Also scrutinize the menus at your favorite restaurants and lobby the owner/chef if you spot anything that looks like it contravenes accepted guidelines for fish sustainability – stocking Bluefin tuna or other critically endangered species, for example, or not displaying any commitment to marine conservation. Again, there are some real good guys out there but the vast majority still has work to do.


K: How were you approached by KENZO and what was your reaction?
C.G.B.: Carol and Humberto from KENZO approached BLUE proactively because they were looking for a charity partner that reflected their own beliefs and what we had to say really struck a chord with them. They explained the reason they chose us out of hundreds of other marine conservation charities was because we were actually doing something about the issue, instead of just talking about it. Our charity has been partly responsible for a significant rise in the total percentage of global ocean currently protected.
We were absolutely thrilled. We always wanted to be cutting edge and innovative and with the help of inspirational extraordinary brands like KENZO and our other existing partners Orlebar Brown and Crème de La Mer, we are able to get our message across to a wider audience in ways that appeal directly to them.


K: Could you explain us the key elements of your partnership with KENZO?
C.G.B.: Our partnership with KENZO is based fundamentally on our shared passion of the ocean, being aware of the crisis in our oceans and wanting to do something to solve it. I believe our partnership with KENZO has proven how global fashion brands can communicate and really drive positive change. Not only are KENZO supporting BLUE with donated funds but they are taking a proactive role in helping spread awareness of overfishing on a global scale. This can only be a positive thing.


K: Before this partnership, what were you visions about fashion and what did you know about KENZO?
C.G.B.: We had operated cause-related partnerships with other fashion and lifestyle brands before, such as Orlebar Brown and Crème De La Mer. Obviously we were very much aware of KENZO as a global label but this represented a great new opportunity for BLUE in terms of the profile of our corporate partners.


K: Brands were in the target of environmentalists for a long time and today they become spokesperson for causes they care very much about. How do you analyze it? 
C.G.B.: I think enlightened companies in all industries are increasingly conscious that they have to demonstrate a commitment to a greater social and environmental purpose and corporate citizenship in order to protect their license to operate. This is more true in this era of social media than ever before and also, with public trust in business at something of an all-time low, there is a higher demand for “doing good” and transparency in all areas. So I think the smarter and more forward-looking brands are realizing they can use their profile and commercial power to deliver progress on critical issues like the environment by partnering with credible charities like BLUE. Without a meaningful purpose a brand won’t thrive.


K: 'No Fish No Nothing' is the catchphrase found by Carol and Humberto to sum up the stake and the seriousness of the situation. It is also a line inspired by the foundation. How do you feel about it?
C.G.B.: We are obviously delighted to be afforded such a prestigious and high-profile platform by a brand of KENZO’s stature. It will bring a whole new audience to our campaign whilst also demonstrating the depth of Carol and Humberto’s commitment to environmental issues. BLUE will of course benefit, as will KENZO. But the most important beneficiary will be the ocean.


K: What are you favorite pieces of the line (see the line for women and men)?
C.G.B.: I think the sweatshirts really stand out for me – they are beautiful and striking to look at, whilst also raising awareness of our cause in an unexpected manner. We couldn’t be happier with how Carol and Humberto’s designs have turned out. It really is an honor for a charity like BLUE to see our emblem alongside the cult KENZO logo but we mustn’t forget that ultimately this is all about saving the seas, an issue even more important than high fashion!


K: What change will this partnership with KENZO allow in 2014? 
C.G.B.: This is our first big collaborative launch with KENZO and we all hope for a big success of our BLUE capsule collection ‘No Fish, No Nothing’, from which KENZO are generously donating a % of sales from the sweatshirts and t-shirts directly to BLUE. Even without being able to gauge the success of the monies raised from the collection, I can confidently say that this partnership will have a huge positive impact on spreading awareness of overfishing – and the broader crisis in the oceans - and hopefully bringing around change in people’s perceptions towards our largest public resource, our oceans.