Shrimp fishing on hoseback in Oostduinkerke, Belgium

People living along the coast of the Northsea always made their living from the sea. in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France shrimping at low tide on foot up to the chest in cold water pushing a raking net over the sand, or on horseback using larger drag net pulled by horses or mules wading in the chest deep water dates back to the 15th century. Shrimps netted from the shallow water without the need of expensive boats supplemented the income of the fishermen families while the men where fishing offshore. Like many other traditions and techniques this way of fishing disappeared in the 2nd half of the 20th century with the advancing technology and changes in lifestyle.

In the Belgian village of Oostduinkerke the use of heavy draft horses to pull drag nets through the shallow waters at low tide is still maintained by a few fishermen. The "Paardenvissers" (flemish for horse fishermen) fish for grey shrimp (Crangon crangon), a species of crustaceans smaller than the little finger on your hand. Nowadays the fishermen their trade as part of their coastal heritage, recognized by the UNESCO as "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" in 2013.

The fishing of shrimp from horseback and on foot, the preparation of the catch by boiling and peeling the shrimp are demonstrated on a regular basis along the beach of Oostduinkerke drom April to October. After having read about his tradition and having watched a couple of video documentaries I had the opportunity to visit Oostduinkerke in July 2019 for a day to watch the Paardenvissers in action (and sample some fresh shrimp).

 

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