ONLY ONE PLACE in the world still holds this 500-year-old tradition of fishermen and horses working together to find the sea’s true delicacy – shrimp. In the little town of Oostduinkerke, Belgium, this tradition lives on. Fisherman still ready their horses and carry their nets towards the sea, and today, their work is registered as UNESCO world heritage. This is their story.
In the early ages, fishing for shrimp was carried out along the entire coastline of the North Sea. The soft sand was ideal for horses to trot to the water where they would spend about three hours splashing around with two nets attached to their backs.
The first documents from the archives that write about this tradition date back to 1510, with men carrying baskets and horses carrying nets. Charles the fifth, Holy Roman Emperor around the time of 1535, forbid the fishing of shrimp, and in the 18th century there was even a penalty for the men who disobeyed this law.
A few years later, fishing was allowed again, but high taxes had to be paid on the amount of shrimp each fishermen brought home. Every year, these events are still acted out in the form of a play, called ‘The Stormfests’.
The number of fishermen has fluctuated strongly over the last two centuries. While in the 18th century around 27 men faced the cold sea, in 1968 there were only three registered.
Today, 12 men ride their horses while they are accompanied by volunteers on foot.
An old saying goes: “Shrimp fishing is as the tide: as long as the tide’s there, the fishing will be too.”
Photography and story by Christine Smeyers, winner of Pandeia’s first Photography Competition.