Shrimp fishing on horseback: a UNESCO World Heritage Site


For centuries, man and draught horse have worked together to bring North Sea shrimp ashore. This tradition continues in Oostduinkerke.

In the past, Icelanders, each with a horse, lived in the small houses of the Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of the Dunes in Koksijde along the coast. For six months of the year, they went to Iceland to fish for cod and the other six months they stayed at home. Their catch was a kind of rent that they paid to the abbey. Later came the "dune farmers", who mainly fished shrimp for their own families and neighbours. The number of horseback fishermen has fluctuated over the centuries, and there are currently only a dozen or so still carrying on the family tradition.


Both the clothing and equipment of the shrimp fishermen have changed dramatically. The heavy oilskin jacket has been replaced by a light yellow nylon jacket - only the sou'wester (oiled hat) is still used for demonstrations. The perfect time is determined by the tide tables. The approximately 7-metre-wide net is made of strong, durable nylon and is held open by two side boards. A chain drags across the sand and floats make the top of the net float.

And why Oostduinkerke, you may ask? Well, because the coastline curves slightly, which makes for a particularly long beach. Five sandbanks alternate with five lagoons with warmer waters. The shrimp lay their eggs there and the young shrimp are released into the coastal waters, causing great delight to fishermen, spectators and gourmets.

Discover this tradition in pictures in the documentary by our compatriot Paul Coudenys.