It’s an age-old tradition, yet very much of this time

Shrimp fishing on horseback is a craft in which shrimps are fished using a Brabant draft horse. The fishermen and fisherwomen enter the sea several times a week with their horse and net, except during the cold winter months.

It takes around three hours to catch the shrimps – an hour and a half  before low tide and an hour and a half afterwards.

The horse goes chest-deep into the water, parallel with the coast.

  • The shrimp fishers use a funnel-shaped net (measuring 7x10 metres) that is kept open by two planks on either side.
  • The fishers drag a chain across the sand which causes shock waves that make the shrimps jump up and land into the net.
  • The fishers take a break every half an hour to go back to the beach, lay out their nets and sift through their catch.
  • They place the shrimps in baskets that hang on either side of their horses.
  • After the shrimps have been caught, they are cooked in fresh water.

Shrimp fishing on horseback – a craft and a skill:

  • Fishers need to have a sound knowledge of the sea and the sands and it is essential that they trust their horse.
  • The migration and growth of the shrimps and the rhythm of the tides and currents determine how they go about fishing.
  • It takes around three hours to catch the shrimps – an hour and a half before low tide and an hour and a half afterwards.

This type of fishing is in stark contrast to high-tech western society. The focus is on nature, gastronomy and the partnership between man and animal on the frontier between land and sea.

In the past, you could find horseback shrimp fishers on the beaches of Flanders, Northern France, Southern England and the Netherlands. Nowadays, they are only found in our municipality.

Shrimp fishing on horseback is a centuries-old ritual. There are hundreds of depictions of fishermen with their horses by Belgian and international artists. The craft is also a source of inspiration for painters, sculptors and film makers.

Q&A with some of our horseback fishers

Do you get better at shrimp fishing over time?

Nele Bekaert: “It goes without saying that experience helps. You start by getting to know the spots where to find the shrimps. Luck plays a role too. We can go out with three people on horses riding alongside each other and one person will catch considerably more than the others. If you come across a shoal of shrimps then you’ve struck lucky. Above all, experience is useful if anything happens. You learn by riding your horse and you sense when someone isn’t right.”

Nele Bekaert

Eddy D’Hulster: “When the youngsters go out fishing with the old guys, us oldsters don’t make it too easy for them. We make sure that no one pinches our best spots. The thinking behind this is that people learn by doing. After all, there’s no training manual for shrimp fishing. Learning means falling down and getting up again. The youngsters have to pick things up by watching others.”

Eddy D’Hulster