Fisheries in Oostende
Overview and Background
The Belgian coast is 67 km long and is entirely bordering the province of West-Flanders (region of Flanders, Belgium). The Belgian part of the North Sea is 3,457 km2 (0.5% of the North Sea area), of which more than 1/3 or 1,430 km² are territorial sea within 12 nautical miles distance of the coastline. Belgium currently has 10 coastal municipalities and 4 coastal ports (Nieuwpoort, Oostende, Zeebrugge and Blankenberge), and besides the fish auctions located in Oostende, Zeebrugge and Nieuwpoort where fish is sold according to legal procedures, there are no other dispersed landing points. Although historically the port and auction of Oostende was by far the most important, today the auctions of Zeebrugge (53%) and Oostende (45%) receive the largest share of the landings of Belgian fisheries in Belgian ports.
Belgium has a minor role in the European fisheries context with 0.35% of the total EU production of fish. In 2012, the Belgian commercial sea fishing fleet counted 86 ships, with a total engine capacity of 49,135 kW and gross tonnage of 15,326 Gross Tonnage (GT) . 45 vessels are part of the Small Fleet Segment (max 221 kW engine power) of which 2 use passive gear. The remaining 41 vessels belong to the Large Fleet Segment and have an engine power between 221 kW and a maximum of 1,200 kW. This fleet segment represents approximately 80% of the engine power capacity and 77% of the Gross Tonnage of the fleet. While a smaller number use trammel nets (passive gear) and otter trawl, the largest share of the Large Fleet Segment are beam trawl vessels (≥662 kW). The Belgian fleet is highly specialized: more than 68% of the effort(days at sea) and 77% of total landings are achieved by beam trawlers(2010)focusing primarily on flatfish species such as plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) and sole (Solea solea). The results of the reconstruction of the Belgian fleet dynamics since 1830 are presented in Lescrauwaet et al. 2013.
The number of days at sea per vessel is fixed at a maximum of 265 per year and in 2011 the entire fleet realized a fishing effort of 15,855 days at sea. In 2011, the Belgian fleet landed a total of 20,138t, of which 16,905t were landed in Belgian ports. Plaice is the most important species in terms of landed weight. The landings of 2011 represented a value of €76.3 million, 14% of which was marketed in foreign ports. Sole generates 47% of the current total value of fisheries in Belgium. The Belgian sea fisheries represent 0.04% of the national Gross Domestic Product . The main fishing grounds in terms of volume of landings in 2010 were in descending order: North Sea South (IVc), Eastern English Channel (VIId), North Sea Central (IVb), Southeast Ireland/Celtic Sea (VIIg) Bristol Channel (VIIf) and Irish Sea (VIIa).
In terms of direct employment, 439 fishers are registered of which approximately 350 are of Belgian nationality. Direct employment in fisheries represent approximately 0.5% of the total employment in the Belgian coastal zone. Another 1040 persons work in the fish processing industry and another 5000 persons in associated trade and services . A historical overview of Belgian sea fisheries is available from  and .
The Belgian sea fishery sector is rather small compared to that of neighbouring countries in the North Sea and has been gradually losing importance since the Second World War. It is also gradually losing importance relative to the booming tourism industry in the Belgian coastal zone. However fisheries can be an added value to the tourism experience at the coast by developing fisheries-related tourism activities .
Oostende (Geographical coordinates: 51°2’ N, 2°9’ E) is the largest town of the Belgian coast and has a population of 70 000 people. The port of Oostende can accommodate all types of coastal maritime traffic. The construction of the harbor in 1445 was of great importance for further growth of the city of Oostende (Allaert G., 2013). Click here for a plan of the harbor of Oostende.
The port is partly owned by the state and partly by the City of Oostende. AG Port Oostende is an autonomous city company established in 1996 by the city council of Oostende. It became operational on 1 March 1997. Before, the port of Oostende was property of the city of Oostende, the RMT (Regie voor Maritiem Transport, the Belgian state-owned ferry service) and the Flemish Region.
The port consists of a tidal basin and a dock port which is closed by locks. The Fishing Port is located at the East side of the ship channel and consists mainly of an access channel, a lock, a fishing dock with shipyards, a tidal dock with a ship cleaning bank (“kuisbank”) for small vessels, two slipways and the fish auction, formerly also the presence of a railway and shipping station. The quay wall-length within the fishing port of Oostende is 1,425 meters long. The port can take up to four vessels in the dock at the same time and can handle ships up to 1,750 tonnes.
The first fish auction of Oostende was established in 1879. The present fish auction dates from 1951. Since 2009 the fish auction of Oostende and Zeebrugge joined to form the “Flemish Fish Auction”. The European food center is the logistics platform of the Flemish Fish Auction and consists out of two clusters of fishing companies with the two auctions (Oostende and Zeebrugge) as its engine. The two clusters contain about 130 companies and employs about 800 people in the fishing business. The supply of fish are sold in real-time over the internet and on a network which connects 3 fish auction clocks namely in Zeebrugge, Oostende and Nieuwpoort.
In Oostende, all fish landings need to be auctioned in the fish auction of Ostend. Special permit can be given to inshore fishing vessels (with an engine power of 221kW or less and a tonnage of no more than 70 GT, that make trips with a maximum period of 24 hours) to directly sell their fish at the fish market on the Montgomery quay in Oostende. Only vessels that have this permit may land their fish at the Montgomery quay. Fishermen can sell part of their fish (as a whole) directly at a fish market, the “Vistrap”. The fish market in Oostende is unique in Belgium. The infrastructure allow ship-owners and fishermen to sell their catches directly. The fish is not auctioned and therefore gives better prices to the ship-owners .
Inshore fishing vessels (with an engine power of 221 kW or less and a tonnage of no more than 70 GT, that make trips of maximum 24 hours) can receive a permit to sell their fish at the fish market on the Montgomerydok. Only vessels that possess a permit are allowed to land fish at the Montogmerydok. Fishermen can sell their caught fish at the fish market only if they completed in a "voorafname" document from the board. The city, national, regional and EEG regulations remain applicable.
- Fig.1. The fish market “vistrap” in Oostende. (VLIZ photo gallery, 2012)
In 2013 a total of 24 fishing vessels were registered in Oostende  from which 10 fishing vessel are defined as an inshore fishing vessels (indicated in blue in the table below): the O.2 NANCY, O.20 NYX, O.62 DINI, O.71 JACOB KIEN, O.82 NAUTILUS, O.101 FISTON, O.116 CAROLINE, O.152 ARAN, O.190 RENILDE and the 0.191 MATIMO. The Belgian definition of inshore fisheries ('kustvisserij') refers to vessels with an engine power of 221 kW or less (this includes any additional installed power) and a tonnage of no more than 70 GT, that make trips with a maximum period determined by the Minister (today being 48 hours) with start and end in a Belgian port. Moreover, vessels with engine power >221 kW are not allowed to fish within the 12nm which is reserved for the inshore fisheries or Small Fleet Segment (Ministerial Decree of December 16, 2005).
|Port letters and number||Vessel name||L.O.A. in m||Gros Tonnage||Year built||Engine power (kW)|
Tabel 1: Fishing vessels of Oostende. Inshore fishing vessels are indicated in blue.(Officiële lijst van de Belgische vissersvaartuigen (Toestand op 31 december 2013))
Graph 1 illustrates the number of fishermen from 1944 until 2012 working in Oostende. In 1947 more than 1300 fishermen were working in Oostende. At the moment the number of fishermen that are employed in the harbour of Oostende is about 150 fishermen.
- Graph.1. Number of fishermen in Oostende. (1944-1995: Source: NIS and 1997-2012: Source: Scheepsvaartcontrole)
Landings and values are available from the HiFi database from 1929 until 1999. The data from 2000-2012 that is added to the data from the HiFi database comes from the publication of Tessens and Velghe (2013), the landings and values of the Belgian sea fisheries in 2012.
Graph 2 shows the total landings in Belgian harbours (blue graph) in tonnes and the landings in Oostende (dark blue line). The graph shows a peak of landings during the 1940’s and 1950’s with the most landings in 1947. Since the 1960’s landings in Oostende started to decrease. At present the auction of Oostende lands around 6000 tonnes of fish a year. The highest value of landings were obtained in 2006 (see Graph 3).
Data of the species landed in Oostende is available from the HiFi database. Graph 4 shows a selection of the most common species landed in Oostende. Most important species that were landed are Cod, Brown shrimp, sole, herring and plaice.
- Graph.4. Landings (kg) of most important species Oostende (1929-1999) (Source: HiFi database)
Governance and Organisations
In Belgium, the FLAG, also called the ‘local group’, ‘Plaatselijke Groep Belgisch Zeevisserijgebied’, is a partnership between socio-economic stakeholders in the fisheries sector, NGOs and public authorities that play a crucial role in the implementation of the proposed development strategy. The lead partner of the Belgian FLAG is the Province of West Flanders. The main focus of the FLAG strategy is to add value to local fisheries products and increase local consumption. Belgian landings represent only 10% of fisheries products consumed in Belgium, leaving the remaining 90% to be met by imports. Therefore there is a considerable potential for discovering and developing local markets. It will also support diversification, innovation, the involvement of women and efforts to promote the sustainable management of the marine environment.
Horizon Educatief, “Horizon education” is a non-profit organization that mainly focus on education, but the organization is also open for other groups. Horizon Education is made possible by support from the city of Ostend, Blankenberge, the municipalities of Koksijde, Bredene, De Haan and Middelkerke, the province of West Flanders, the Flemish Community and the European Community. Horizon education staff teaches children about the sea using different educative workshops amongst them is a workshop about fisheries. During this workshop children learn about fisheries and fishermen. Horizon Education works closely with old fishermen and volunteers. Each volunteer and fishermen has to follow a course before they are allowed to give workshops.
The Flemish brown shrimp is a typical fisheries product in Belgium. In 2006 the Purus label was introduced by a cooperation of ship owners, the cooperative Flemish fisheries organization (Cooperative Vlaamse Visserij Vereniging CVBA) to promote the Flemish unpeeled brown shrimps. The brown shrimps are caught by Belgian fishermen, the fishermen fish no longer than 24 hours and the shrimps are cooked in old Flemish manner (in sea water with salt), there are no additives, preservatives added. This all results in high quality taste. The Purus label also promotes sustainable fishing techniques.
Since 2011, the Flemish Shellfish- and fish cooperation (VSVC) supply, via an exclusive quality label, North Sea Life, life brown shrimps and swimming crabs to restaurants and wholesalers. Life shrimps allows chefs to determine how they will prepare the shrimps. Life product forms the base of creative and gastronomic possibilities. The same is true for life swimming crabs. In 2013 a minimum of 200 kilo life brown shrimps were landed each day. Prices for life shrimps are on average 30 percent higher than shrimps cooked on board of the shrimp vessel.
Fish as Food
Next to the fish market (see: Port description), there are also several fish shops located in Oostende (click here for an overview).
The presence of a fish auction in Oostende attracts fish processing industries. Some examples of fish processing industries are given below.
- Simons & Decru is one of the oldest fish processing companies from Belgium, the company was established in 1894. After WOII, the company is located near the fish auction of Oostende. Fish come in from the auction and is cleaned and filleted by professional filters. After fish processing, the fish is packed and transported to clients.
- Morubel founded in 1954 is part of the Heiploeg group located in Oostende. Morubel is specialized in frozen products.
- Neptunus is a company located near the fish auction of Oostende that is specialized in wholesale fish from European ports, even fish from Iceland.
Several restaurants in Oostende joined the a l’Ostendaise initiative (see: Fisheries related activities). The restaurants all serve a monthly menu with fish caught by local fishermen.
|A l'Ostendaise restaurant||Website|
|Agua Del Mar||www.aguadelmar.be|
|Toi, moi et la mer||www.toimoietlamer.be|
Oostende houses a National Seamen’s Memorial created by Willy Kreitz in 1953. The statue of a tough sailor that stands with crossed arms is located at the “Zeeheldenplein” but was originally standing in the location of Ostend’s first lighthouse.
Oostende has two museums related to fisheries.
- The Amandine is a museum ship of Oostende. The O.129 Amandine is a large middle-size trawler that used to operate in the fishing grounds around Southern Iceland and during winter in the North Sea and the Channel. On the 3rd March 1995 the Amandine sailed for the last time into Oostende. This meant the end of the Iceland fisheries in Oostende. The Amandine was restored and since 2000 the ship is located at the Fisherman’s Quay (Visserskaai) and houses a museum.
- Walraversijde is a medieval fishing village located in Oostende. Excavation of historical remains of Walraversijde started in 1990. At the moment Walraversijde is an open air museum containing a platform from which visitors can monitor the archeological excavations. Four houses are reconstructed that illustrate the fishing community that was situated here. The visitors center of the museum houses a collection of objects, graphic illustrations, multimedia on the history of the medieval fishing village.
The city of Oostende organizes several touristic activities related to fisheries. For example tourists can sail with the Crangon, a shrimp fishing vessel equipped in traditional manner. During the three hours trip off the Belgian coast people experience how Flemish fishermen catch brown shrimps, how they are sorted, washed, boiled and cooled down and off course how the shrimps taste.
A l’ostendaise puts the lesser-known species, landed by local fishermen in the spotlight. Monthly a "fish of the month” is chosen. The Ostend chefs are challenged to prepare this fish into a delicious fish menu. Every first Friday of the month, “aan tafel met de visser”, “dining with fishermen” event is held in Oostende. During this evening people learn about fisheries in Oostende. The evening starts with a guided tour in the maritime quarter. Afterwards people can join tables with fishermen. Each month two restaurants are selected that offer a special ‘a l’ostendaise’ menu prepared with fish of the month. Fishermen will be present to tell about the fish on the menu, their lives at sea etc.
The a l’ostendaise walk introduces the maritime heritage of Ostend by means of an app. The app can be downloaded on a tablet, smartphone and learns about the sailors monument, the North Sea Aquarium, the Amandine, the fish market, light house and much more.
A l’ostendaise also provides an a l’ostendaise day trip for groups. The programme of the day trip consists of a maritime guided walk, a l’ostendaise lunch menu and a visit at the Amandine of the City museum of Oostende.
Oostende has a Noordzeeaquarium, “North Sea Aquarium” that is located in an old shrimp market. The collection of the North Sea Aquarium is kept alive by fishermen who bring live aquarium material with them from their fishing trips at the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. Besides live fish, crustaceans, molluscs and anemones, the North Sea Aquarium also contains a collection of fossils, shells and dried and stuffed sea creatures.
The maritime Instituut Mercator, “Maritime Institute Mercator”, is the only fisheries school left in Belgium. The school is located in Oostende and offers courses in maritime techniques, which is a more specialized training than the “maritime forming” course. Students learn on board of ships but also by means of simulators. Students that graduate from the Maritime Institute Mercator find jobs not only in the fisheries sector but also as shipbuilders, in dredging companies, the navy, on merchant ships or pleasure boats, drilling platform etc.
Adults can follow several maritime courses in “CVO De Avondschool”, “Evening classes” in Oostende.
|Fishing Fleet||Vessel type 1||10|
|Fishing Fleet||Vessel type 2||14|
|Fishing Fleet||Vessel type 3|
|Fishing Fleet||Vessels total||24|
|Landings||Total Landings (tonnes)||Demersal (tonnes)|
|Landings||Total Landings (tonnes)||Pelagic (tonnes)|
|Landings||Total Landings (tonnes)||Shellfish (tonnes)|
|Landings||Total Landings (tonnes)||Main species (tonnes)|
|Landings||Total Landings (tonnes)||All species (tonnes)|
|Landings||Number of fishermen||Number of fishermen (Regular)|
|Landings||Number of fishermen||Number of fishermen (Part-time)|
|Landings||Number of fishermen||Number of fishermen Total|
|Landings||Major fish species|
|Landings||Location of auctions||The first fish auction of Oostende was established in 1879. The present fish auction dates from 1951. Since 2009 the fish auction of Oostende and Zeebrugge joined to form the “Flemish Fish Auction”.|
|Governance and organisation||Governance|
|Governance and organisation||FLAG||West Flanders|
|Governance and organisation||Location of fishermen's organisations|
|Branding||Brand labels||The Purus label promotes the Flemish unpeeled brown shrimps.|
Via ‘North Sea Life’ label, the Flemish Shellfish- and fish cooperation (VSVC) supply life brown shrimps and swimming crabs to restaurants and wholesalers.
|Fish as food||Fish selling||Fish shops and Fish market ("Vistrap") on the Montgomery quay in Oostende.|
|Fish as food||Fish processing||Simons&Decru, Vismijn 26 & 27, 8400 Oostende|
|Fish as food||Restaurants/hotels||Several restaurants in Oostende joined the a l’Ostendaise initiative. The restaurants all serves a monthly menu with fish caught by local fishermen.|
|Tourism & Education||Tourism & Fishing||Tourists can sail with the Crangon, a shrimp fishing vessel equipped in traditional manner. During the three hours trip off the Belgian coast people experience how Flemish fishermen catch brown shrimps, how they are sorted, washed boiled and cooled down and off course how the shrimps taste.|
|Tourism & Education||Festivals||A l'Ostendaise|
|Tourism & Education||Fishing museums||The Amandine is a museum ship of Oostende.|
Walraversijde is a medieval fishing village located in Oostende.
|Tourism & Education||Aquariums||Oostende has a Noordzeeaquarium, “North Sea Aquarium” that is located in an old shrimp market.|
|Tourism & Education||Monuments||Oostende houses a National Seamen’s Memorial created by Willy Kreitz in 1953. The statue of a tough sailor that stands with crossed arms is located at the “Zeeheldenplein” but was originally standing in the location of Ostend’s first lighthouse.|
|Tourism&Education||Fishing training School||The maritime Instituut Mercator, “Maritime Institute Mercator”, is the only fisheries school left in Belgium.|
Adults can follow several maritime courses in “CVO De Avondschool”, “Evening classes” in Oostende.
Vessel type 1= In Belgium, the legal definition of inshore/coastal fleet from February 2006 onwards is all fishing vessels that have an engine power of 221 kW or less, including any additional power and a tonnage of no more than 70 GT and that undertake trips with a maximum period determined by the Minister (currently 48 hours). Vessel owners need to actively register to be included in the coastal fleet. (Source: http://www.vliz.be/imis/imis.php?module=ref&refid=210294; http://www.vliz.be/imis/imis.php?module=ref&refid=209014).
Vessel type 2= High sea vessels
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- Lescrauwaet, A.-K. (2013). Belgian fisheries: ten decades, seven seas, forty species: Historical time-series to reconstruct landings, catches, fleet and fishing areas from 1900. PhD Thesis. Ghent University (UGent): Gent. xiii, 242 pp.
- Anon. (2008). Strategische Milieubeoordeling van het Nationaal Operationeel Plan voor de Belgische visserijsector, 2007 - 2013. ILVO Visserij: Oostende. 103 pp.
- Lescrauwaet, A.-K.; Debergh, H.; Vincx, M.; Mees, J. (2010). Fishing in the past: Historical data on sea fisheries landings in Belgium. Mar. Policy 34(6): 1279-1289. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2010.05.006
- Anon. (2011). Europees Visserijfonds (EVF). AS 4: ontwikkelingsstrategie voor het Belgisch kustgebied. Europees Visserijfonds: (s.l.). 33 pp.
- Vlaamse Havencommisie
- Oostende Oosteroever
- Delaney, A.; De Smet, S.; Verhaeghe, D. (2010). Assessment of the status, development and diversification of fisheries-dependent communities: Oostende Case Study Report. European Commission: [s.l.. 56 pp.]
- 26/10/2006 Politieverordening Oostende vismijn: Politieverordening van 26 oktober 2006 van Oostende over de vismijn
- Anon. (2014). Officiële lijst van de Belgische vissersvaartuigen = Liste officielle des navires de pêche belges. Toestand op 31 December 2013. Officiële lijst van de Belgische vissersvaartuigen = Liste officièlle des navires de pêche belges. Federale Overheidsdienst Mobiliteit en Vervoer: Brussel. 30 pp.
- Tessens, E.; Velghe, M. (Ed.) (2013). De Belgische zeevisserij 2012: Aanvoer en besomming: Vloot, quota, vangsten, visserijmethoden en activiteit. Dienst Zeevisserij: Oostende. 119 pp.
- FLAG factsheet - Belgium - West Flanders
- De Kust kijkt verder: Purus Garnaal
- ILVO ziet in rauwe garnaal meer dan lucratieve niche