All along the shores of Belgium, the sight of shrimp fishermen on draught horseback was commonplace but the tradition is quickly fading. Today, you will only note a handful fishermen on horseback in Oostduinkerke where the tradition is still at large. This is where I landed next to not only fish for the shrimp in the area but also enjoy the cool Northern Belgium beach.
I like sitting on my comfort zone but quite more than often I find myself in situations where my comfort zone cannot be seen in the vicinity on a clear day. Oostduinkerke, Belgium was adventurous. First off, I arrive late and end up in a very poor hotel. Secondly, I only speak English and did not have an interpreter and thirdly after traveling the whole day and feeling damn tired, I still had to document the events of the day.
Fishing for shrimp on horseback is a 500 year old tradition and surprisingly, it is still being practiced by 12 local families in Oostduinkerke who were, on 2014, recognized by UNESCO. UNESCO recognized the tradition as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Fishermen arrive in Oostduinkerke on horseback or on horse pulled carts. Most wear yellow oilskins and compliment the garb with rubber waders. The fishermen attach wicker baskets on each side of the wooden saddles, check on the nets and fishing for shrimp kicks off. Dina was my horse. She is a fishing beast. I attach the baskets and the nets and rode on Dina as other fishermen.
If you are wearing your lucky jacket or pants, you will have the chance to taste the freshly cooked shrimps on the coast promenade. However, this is rare and may happen twice a month. I was not on my lucky pants.
Oostduinkerke, Belgium coast has a gentle slope. Horses usually get breast-deep and then wade back and forth pulling the nets as they go. This does not alter the sea floor but takes in more effort that trawling on boats. You only get back to the shore when the nets are full enough for emptying. It only takes an hour or so but you do not want to miss it. The beach is full of tourists and locals selling handmade jewelry and pencil art to tourists and it gets very noisy. After fishing for shrimp, the baskets will be full with grey shrimp. I hanged out for a few more minutes before proceeding to see more of the beautiful beach. Everyone wanted a picture with Dina.