Breskens is a town located at the mouth of the Westerschelde (river) with approximately 4.780 inhabitants. In the 15th century marshes developed that were known under the name Breskenszand. These marshes were drained and then in 1510 “Breskenszand” was diked. In 1518 the village was founded as Breskens, it developed slowly and had only one main street known as “Dorpstraat” and some few side streets. Given its strategic location at the mouth of the Schelde, there are a number of forts along the coast of which Fort Frederik Hendrik is the most important.
Traditionally, the source of income for many residents of Breskens is fishing. By 1800, the port of Breskens was under developed and not more than a narrow shallow channel with some poles-and platform that served as wharf and dock. In 1865 the port of Breskens was taken over by the government and it was enlarged and improved. In 1870 a screw-boat service was stablished serving the region from Rotterdam to Breskens. Trade with Belgium at that time was already in full swing. The port of Breskens thrived and provided important an industry.
Breskens has a fishing school created in 1920 after the First World War when vessels were gradually being equipped with engines; this was funded by the Board of Breskens. During the thirties Breskens had a wealthy period with abundant fish. With the establishment of the local fish market in 1935, local fish was sold in public and prices were controlled. This weakened the relationship between fisherman and buyer but increased the competition between the buyers themselves. Neighbouring towns, such as Urks, Texel, Scheveningen and Katwijk, took their catch to Breskens fish market; this brought economic prosperity to the village. In 1947 there was an increment on sales of the municipal fish market and significant transport in the hinterland. The period between the late 40s to early 60s was considered the golden era for the fishermen of Breskens. Today, the port of Breskens is a trading port, a fishing port and marina. In fact this is an open dock (no locks) with access to the Westerschelde with the advantage that it allows all vessels to sail in and out at any time. The harbour has a tide difference of about four meters, enabling larger ships to take into account the tides when they leave and enter.
The fishing port is home to the Bressiaanse fleet. This fleet consists of approximately 15 units of ships ranging in length from 17 to 43 meters. The large ships have their fishing grounds in the North Sea and make weekly expeditions. There are also smaller vessels fishing along the coast on a daily basis and for this reason there is a constant supply of fresh fish to the region. They specialise in catching species such as flatfish, shrimp and fish. This fish is brought to the fish market and from there sold to the fishmongers.
Breskens fish auction has a central location on the southern North Sea with access to several European markets. With a direct hinterland connection it sells to Belgian Flanders and northern French markets, and also contributes to the supply of fresh bulk markets in the Netherlands. It has an annual turnover of 8 million Euros.
As demonstrated, Breskens has been selected as a case study on the basis of its historical fishing heritage and also as an important active fishing port for the researched area. The town has a fisher families’ neighbourhood and every year in August it celebrates “the fish festival”. This is a celebration of the activity and an opportunity to collectively share its importance to community life.
(Information provided by Municipality of Middelburg)