Shrimp fishing on horseback in Oostduinkerke has featured on UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2013.
Intangible heritage is living heritage.
It is the recognition of practices, customs, performances, rituals, traditions, expressions, special knowledge or skills of communities and groups (and even individuals, sometimes) as heritage.
What are its special features?
Intangible cultural heritage is passed from one generation to the next and it is important for a shared identity.
You can find intangible heritage everywhere. It belongs to everyone and it is timeless. Examples include letting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, making resolutions at the start of a new year, the Belgian and Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, Candlemas pancakes, Belgium’s beer culture, visiting a fun fair and carnival festivities. In the same way, shrimp fishing on horseback in Oostduinkerke is also intangible cultural heritage.
In 2003, UNESCO launched the Convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage to supplement their previous convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1972.
The World Heritage List brings together monuments and landscapes that have exceptional value.
The 2003 Convention and the subsequent Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity do the same thing for living heritage.
UNESCO wants to guarantee the future of these traditions, rituals and examples of crafts. Gaining a place on the Representative List should also lead to an increased visibility and awareness of this heritage.
Recognition by UNESCO encourages the community around shrimp fishing on horseback to safeguard this heritage.
In other words, it encourages the community to take deliberate action so that this craft continues to exist and is passed on to subsequent generations.
The NAVIGO museum has put its weight behind safeguarding this craft in conjunction with the shrimp fishers on horseback, the honourable horseback fishermen, the Koninklijke Orde van de Paardevisser (the Royal Order of the Horseback Fisherman) and the municipality of Koksijde.
They have also been meeting since 2013 in the so-called Safeguarding Committee that takes the most appropriate measures to ensure that the craft continues to develop over the long term.