It’s quite a sight to see: hordes of curious visitors and locals heading for the sea (some struggling in the sand with kids in buggies) to watch the shrimp fisherman ride big, strong, powerful Brabant draft horses as they trawling the water for their precious catch.
It is the only place in the world where you can see such shrimpers. Twelve households in Oostduinkerke are actively engaged in shrimp fishing: each has its own speciality, such as weaving nets or an extensive knowledge of these draft horses, who twice a week, except in winter months, walk breast-deep in the surf in Oostduinkerke, parallel to the coastline, pulling funnel-shaped nets held open by two wooden boards. A chain dragged over the sand creates vibrations, causing the shrimp to jump into the net.
Shrimpers place the catch (which is later cooked and eaten) in baskets hanging at the horses’ sides. A good knowledge of the sea and the sand strip, coupled with a high level of trust and respect for one’s horse, are the shrimpers’ essential attributes.
UNESCO said: “The tradition gives the community a strong sense of collective identity and plays a central role in social and cultural events, including the two-day Shrimp Festival for which the local community spends months building floats, preparing street theatre and making costumes. The shrimp parade and a contest involving hundreds of children being initiated into shrimp catching, attract over 10,000 visitors every year. The shrimp fishers function on principles of shared cultural values and mutual dependence. Experienced shrimpers demonstrate techniques and share their knowledge of nets, tides and currents with beginners.
“Shrimp fishing on horseback allows experienced shrimpers to pass on their knowledge and skills to younger generations, while providing the Oostduinkerke community with a sense of identity and respect for the marine environment.”
It’s well worth the trip and you can taste the catch afterwards on the promenade and join the evening celebrations. Mark this in your diary for 2014, in the last weekend of June.
Photo: David Edgar