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Horseback Shrimp Fishing in Belgium

A unique fishing tradition is still preserved in Oostduinkerke

Horseback Shrimp Fishing
Horseback Shrimp Fishing

Oostduinkerke, a small coastal town in West Flanders, is the only place in Europe where the traditional way of fishing on horseback is still alive. It used to be widely practised along the coast of the North Sea, but only a dozen households still adhere to this 700-year-old tradition.

Twice a week during the warm months, from late June to early September, the local fishermen gather on the shore to catch shrimp. Shrimpers (or paardenvissers) wear bright yellow outfits and rubber boots as they ride strong Brabant horses into the sea. The horses walk breast-deep into the water and drag homemade nets behind them to catch the shrimp. This can last from one to two hours. The fishermen then return to the shore, pick the shrimp from the net and put them in big baskets on the horses’ sides.

On the last weekend of June, the Shrimp Festival takes place. The festival begins in the early afternoon before the high tide so that fishermen have enough time to demonstrate their mastery. When the fishing is over, shrimpers and spectators head to the town square where the catch is weighed and the winner of the fishing contest is chosen.

Aside from the contest, the festival has other forms of entertainment to offer. The Shrimp Parade is a colourful procession with numerous floats, people in masquerade costumes, and a Miss Shrimp. For two days, the city centre is occupied by a folklore market, live concerts, and performances. And, of course, visitors shouldn't miss the opportunity to taste the dishes made from the freshest shrimp.

Every year, around 10,000 people visit Oostduinkerke to attend the festival. In 2013, UNESCO recognized shrimp fishing on horseback as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

If you'd like to try shrimps, one of the options is a private food tour, which you may join in the city of Bruges, just 40 minutes drive from Oostduinkerke. However, during the season, shrimp specialties may be found all across the country.

Practical info

When can tourists witness the traditional horseback shrimp fishing in Oostduinkerke?

The traditional horseback shrimp fishing in Oostduinkerke can be observed twice weekly during the months of late June to early September. Visitors must determine the exact schedule from local authorities as it may change due to weather conditions. Tourists must coincide their visit to the festival within these dates to watch the traditional fishing method. Show more

Where does the fishing contest during the Shrimp Festival take place?

The fishing contest during the Shrimp Festival in Oostduinkerke is held on the beach. Several fishermen, in bright yellow outfits and rubber boots, ride horses into the sea to catch shrimp using traditional techniques. The catch is weighed after, with the winner being announced at the town square. Most of the festival's other forms of entertainment is centred at the square. Show more

How many households practice the 700-year-old method of shrimp fishing on horseback in Oostduinkerke?

Only a few fishermen in Oostduinkerke, about a dozen households, still apply the 700-year-old technique of shrimp fishing on horseback. Formerly, this method was common throughout the North Sea coast, but it is now quite rare. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) granted the tradition a spot as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013. Show more

What other forms of entertainment are part of the Shrimp Festival in Oostduinkerke?

The Shrimp Festival in Oostduinkerke has plenty of activities to offer visitors apart from the fishing tournament. The festival has a flashy Shrimp Parade with several floats, many individuals in masquerade costumes, and a Miss Shrimp. Additionally, the city centre features a folklore market with live concerts and performances. Tourists may sample various shrimp dishes and delicacies made from the freshest catch during the festival. Show more

Can visitors find restaurants in Oostduinkerke that serve fresh shrimp caught during the traditional horseback fishing?

Yes, visitors can discover several restaurants in Oostduinkerke that are famous for their dishes made from shrimp caught during the traditional horseback fishing. When the fishing season is underway, it is possible that visitors may find shrimp delicacies throughout the country. Moreover, tourists can participate in a private food tour in Bruges, just 40 minutes away from Ostend, to sample distinct shrimp and other Belgian delicacies. Show more

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Last updated: by Dari Vasiljeva