GIFS activity 1.2: Case study Nieuwpoort (Belgium) fisheries embedded in local tourism policy

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Nieuwpoort (Belgium) fisheries embedded in local tourism policy

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 GT [1]. 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 GT 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[2].

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 [3]. 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 [1]. A historical overview of Belgian sea fisheries is available from [4] and [2].

The Belgian sea fishery sector is rather small compared to that of neighbouring countries on the North Sea and has been gradually losing importance since the Second World War. The tourism industry in the Belgian coastal zone is on the other hand booming, and fisheries can be an added value to the tourism experience at the coast by developing fisheries-related tourism activities [5]. The present case study of Nieuwpoort (Belgium) analyzes how fisheries is embedded in tourism policy of the municipality.

Geographical location

Kaart Nieuwpoort.png
Figure 1 : Geographical situation of Nieuwpoort

Nieuwpoort (51°7′N, 2°45′E) is a town situated at the western part of the Belgian Coast. It was given city rights in 1163 and has a population of 11.000 people. The port of Nieuwpoort is the only natural harbour of the Flemish/Belgian coast and is located at the mouth of the IJzer river. Nieuwpoort has a rich history in fisheries [6]. In 2013 a total of 9 fishings vessels are registered in the port of Nieuwpoort from which 6 are defined as inshore fishing vessels: the N.58 Pelorus Jack, N.86 Rudy, N.34 L'Etaplois, N.93 Aalschover, N.32 Jolly Jumper, N.79 Warrior [7]. 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 of 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 Tonnage Year built Engine power (kW)
N.32 JOLLY JUMPER 11.78 21 2007 221
N.34 L'ETAPLOIS 12.4 22 1981 110
N.57 SPES-NOVA 23.75 99 1986 220
N.58 PELORUS JACK 19.35 66 1986 221
N.79 WARRIOR 23.82 70 1986 221
N.86 RUDY 20.01 57 2006 220
N.93 AALSCHOVER 21.08 67 1986 220
N.95 JONAS II 12.68 18 1987 471
N.350 INGRID 23.82 104 1996 221

Tabel 1: Fishing Vessels of Nieuwpoort. Inshore fishing vessels are indicated in blue.(Officiële lijst van de Belgische vissersvaartuigen (Toestand op 31 december 2013))

Governance, organisations and their objectives

In Belgium, Flanders has the exclusive jurisdiction over the Belgian sea fisheries sector which consists of recreational and commercial fisheries. The regulations for recreational fisheries are addressed in the Royal Decree of August 14, 1989 and the Ministerial Decree of December 21, 2012. In case of commercial fisheries, the policy is outlined by the Flemish Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries [8]. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is responsible for the preparation of the policy on European and Flemish level. Within this department, the section of Agriculture and Fisheries has a broader mission; it is responsible for the implementation of the European policy, the formulation of policy proposals, the development of regulations, as well as for the execution of the fisheries policy. This concerns the implementation of the European (European Fisheries Fund, EFF) and Flemish (Financial Instrument for the Flemish Fisheries and aquaculture, FIVA) policy for investments and actions in support of fisheries.

The Sea fisheries service is part of this department and is tasked with the implementation, coordination and fishery policy control. Next to that fishery policy is supported by the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) and Flanders' Agricultural Marketing Board (VLAM).

The Strategic Advisory Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (SALV) advises the Flemish Government and the Flemish Parliament on policies and draft regulations relating to all economic, ecological, social and societal aspects of the (agricultural and) fisheries policy. The Technical Fisheries Working Committee of SALV prepares the advice. The Environment and Nature Council of Flanders (Minaraad) also provides advice to a number of fisheries-related cases. The redercentrale (Shipowners' Federation) is recognized as the producer organization in the fishery sector and as a professional association representing the employers. Furthermore, the Foundation for Sustainable Fisheries Development (SDVO) intended to guide and support the Belgian sea fisheries cluster in all areas that contribute to the sustainability of fisheries. Both the Rederscentrale (Shipowners' Federation) as SDVO are represented in the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs).

Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs) are funded by the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) with Axis 4 funds (a program that supports the sustainable development of fisheries areas) in order to support a range of projects proposed and carried out by a wide variety of local stakeholders.

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. [9]

In the Belgian territorial sea (between 0 and 12 nautical miles), fisheries is regulated by the law of 19 August 1891. In this law, fishing vessels between 0 and 12 nm may not exceed the limit of 221 kW and between 0 and 3nm, fishing vessels may not exceed the limit of 70 GT. However in the Draft Royal Decree establishing the marine spatial plan, the zone of 3nm is expanded to 4.5 nm [10]. The prohibition of fishing vessels of >70 GT in the 4.5 nm area is seen as an opportunity for inshore fisheries [11]. In the Belgian part of the North Sea, recreational fisheries mainly consists of sea anglers (about 2000 recreational sea fishers are members of the ‘Vlaamse Vereniging van Hengelsportverbonden’) and shrimp and flatfish fishery with small trawls. Recreational fishing from the beach are fixed nets and line fishermen active on the beach or from groins and seawalls [1]. Excepted the fixed net fishing, the fishing activities in the Belgian waters do not require authorization and therefore little is known about the extent of this fishery sector [12]. Moreover, the impact of recreational fisheries has not been studied in detail. According to an estimation in a pilot study commissioned by the Dienst Zeevisserij [13], cod catches by recreational fisheries are at least of the same order of magnitude as the catches by commercial fisheries. Also the impact of the fleet of recreational fishermen using beam trawl (<3m wide) for shrimp and flatfish fisheries is not yet mapped. In Oostduinkerke the shrimp nets are towed by horses. There are twelve horseback shrimp fishermen and two ‘kruiersverenigingen’ active in Oostduinkerke which both have an important folkloric value [14] [15]. Recently Lescrauwaet et al. 2013 [16] revealed the unreported and misreported landings of the commercial fleet, unreported landings by the recreational and artisanal/subsistence fisheries and by estimating discards for the most important fisheries in Belgium in a Fisheries Research publication.

The city of Nieuwpoort

The city of Nieuwpoort received a concession agreement from the Flemish government after the Second World War to own the fishing harbour. The quay walls of the fishing harbour covers an area of 400 meters and are managed by the city. The storehouses and storage rooms for fishing companies and the fish auction, also managed by the city, are located here. Regulations and users agreements are still decided by the city council, which also determines the rates and house rules of the fish auction. Recently the city council introduced new pontoons in the fishing harbour, especially built for the new generation polyester fishing ships. Because of the tidal forces, the ships that are moored against the quay walls move along with the tides. The movement damages the fishing ships that are made out of polyester. In order to avoid these damages, the city council introduced 36 meters of pontoons. Fishing ships that make use of the pontoons have to sell their fish in the fish auction otherwise they have to pay tax for mooring the quay wall of Nieuwpoort.

The exploitation of the fish auction is also a service of the city. The first fish auction, a wooden building, was built in 1924. In 1928, a second auction was built. During the Second World War the auction was destroyed and a new fish auction was established in 1953. Since then the fish auction’s staff is assigned as staff of the city. In 1972 the fish auction enlarged to its current size [6]. An electronic auction system was introduced in 1999 and since 2013 there is a joint auction system between the fish auction of Nieuwpoort and Oostende-Zeebrugge. With this investment, the city council wants to encourage further economic development of the fish auction of Nieuwpoort [17]. The city is responsible for fish weighing, arranging the sale and it acts as an intermediary between ship owner and merchant; the municipality pays the ship owner, which need to have a fishing license, and then collects this sum from authorized fishmongers. Next to that, the city provides cold rooms for ship owners, to store their landings. Also fishmongers can make use of cold rooms to leave drums with fish waste which will be collected by a specialized firm. The city also provides facilities to the inspectors of the Federal Agency for Sea Fisheries and service performing their monitoring of the landed fish [18]. Also Promovis vzw may use the fish auction accommodation for their meetings.

The fish auction of Nieuwpoort is not only considered by the local council as economically important but also as a major tourist attraction for the city [17]. Therefore a close cooperation exists between the department responsible for fisheries and the tourism department of the city of Nieuwpoort which also focuses on fisheries. The tourism department organizes guided visits to the fish auction, initiatives such as ‘Friday Fish Day’, a fisheries festival, a fisheries weekend and so on. The guided visits to the fish auction attract 10 000 visitors a year [19].

The fish auction of Nieuwpoort organizes series of guided visits to the fish auction on Fridays. This event is organized with the support of the City of Nieuwpoort and the province of West-Flanders, the Palm Breweries (Rodenbach) and the cooperation of skipper and crew of the "Endlich", an unique sailboat which forms the symbol of Nieuwpoort.

This is a guided visit to the fish auction and the fishing port of Nieuwpoort. Afterwards there is a degustation of North Sea shrimp and local beer ‘Rodenbach’.

Annually, during Whitsun, a special Fisheries weekend is held in Nieuwpoort. Numerous activities are organized with the aim of highlighting Nieuwpoort fish trade to the broad public. Some examples of activities are the North Sea shrimp peeling competition, fish dishes tasting, live performances, ...

The city of Nieuwpoort - in its endeavour to support its fisheries in an integrative way - has to deal with a number of challenges [17]. Some Belgian fishing grounds are qualified to become protected areas in the draft MSP, this threatens fishermen’s fishing areas. Therefore the city of Nieuwpoort asks help from all possible partners to defend the fishermen’s fishing grounds. Also the rising fuel costs cause problems. Next to that there is a need for renovation of the fishing fleet and need for a sufficient number of fishing fleet. There is a call to allow the smaller fishing vessels to commercial fisheries. For example attracting small-scale fleet fishing for ocean perch to Nieuwpoort by drawing up new rules that could cause lowering investment costs of a starting fisherman / ship-owner and lowering the threshold for fishermen both financially and on regulatory level.


The non-profit organization Promovis Nieuwpoort was founded in 2003 by Marcel Madou (former director of the fish auction of Nieuwpoort), Ronny Beschuyt (current Director of the fish auction of Nieuwpoort) and Romeo Rau (fish merchant and chairman of Promovis) to promote inshore fisheries in Nieuwpoort as well as the fish market of Nieuwpoort [17].

The committee of Promovis is composed of persons with different expertise; the committee of 2013 consists of the former and current director of the fish auction of Nieuwpoort, a representative from the Province of West-Flanders (‘sectormanager leefcultuur’), fish merchants and the alderman for fisheries in Nieuwpoort, mr. K. Vandecasteele. Promovis works closely with ship-owners, fishermen, the fish auction and retailers, the city of Nieuwpoort and the Province of West-Flanders [20]. The objectives of Promovis Nieuwpoort are [20]:

  • Determining the geographic and quality criteria to which fish must meet in order to receive the local quality label (Fish of Nieuwpoort)
  • To promote the fish of Nieuwpoort as a quality product
  • Support the professional/commercial fishing fleet and fish market of Nieuwpoort
  • Support and promote the fishing port of Nieuwpoort as an economic, cultural, touristic and maritime unit

In addition, Promovis aims to strengthen the relationship, which is so often lacking between the different actors. Promovis tries to strive for 'alliance' between ship-owners - fisherman – fish auction – fish traders. Each link is equally important and indispensable to create sufficient value within the fishing industry so that the industry can prosper economically and socially.

Promovis develops various promotional activities, e.g. "Friday Fish Day", "Bruintje met garnaal", the fisheries weekend and so on, and has also acquired the task of the “Nieuwpoortse visbakkers” and promote the consumption of fresh plaice at national level [17]. The website of Promovis is part of a project submitted to Axis4 (EU Fisheries Funds). The FLAG also provides advice and financially support the Promovis website [17]. The website provides general information about fisheries (e.g. fish species, fishing community, ...), up to date information about Promovis, the fishing community of Nieuwpoort, activities organized by Promovis, ...Annualy Promovis publishes a brochure from which a copy can be obtained free of charge and is available online at the website of Promovis. [17].

Province of West-Flanders

The Province of West-Flanders wishes to contribute to a sustainable and profitable economic development of the fishing sector. Bottlenecks, problems and developments in this sector are followed up as closely as possible to detect chances and opportunities. In the assignment of the Province of West-Flanders: 'Maritiem erfgoed aan de kust' Eindrapport the focus of Nieuwpoort is on current fisheries. New opportunities for fisheries and the fishing port are among the action points of the maritime heritage opportunities of Nieuwpoort [15].

The Province of West-Flanders recognizes the importance of the Flemish fish products and therefore supports organizations and initiatives that are committed to put local fish in the spotlight. The Province of West-Flanders is for instance involved in the Friday Fish Day initiative.

The FLAG that is part of the resources of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) manages the Axis 4 (sustainable development of fisheries areas) resources, has approved a number of projects in the past year that are in line with the operation of Promovis. They contribute to the promotion of seafood landed by Belgian fishermen. The initiatives are scattered throughout the Belgian coastline but also chefs and retailers across the country can participate in these projects. For more information about these initiatives see

Legal aspects

One of the action points in the Policy of Nieuwpoort (2009) is to optimize the value of the agriculture and fisheries sector of Nieuwpoort by bringing the N86 Surcouf, a small fishing ship, on land. This is expected to increase the perceived value of the fisheries of Nieuwpoort for tourists. Also the existing organized guided visits to the fish auction in cooperation with Promovis will be continued. Next to the tourism aspect, it is equally important to continue investing in the economic viability of fisheries as an economic sector. For this reason, the sector invested in the operation of the fish auction by purchasing a sorting machine, adjusting the electronic sales system and the purchase of an electric lifter [21]. In the Strategic multiannual plan of the city of Nieuwpoort 2008-2012, two action points are added to optimize the value of the fisheries of Nieuwpoort; by renovating the visitors bathroom of the Fish auction and by supporting the promotion of activities of Promovis in the fish auction.

In Nieuwpoort (and Oostende) a municipal police regulation is imposed that implies that fish landed in the harbour may only be sold in the fish auction. In this Regulation of 1975 several aspects of manipulating and processing fish from vessel to shop are addressed: the docks for fishing ships, the sorting of fish, using creels, hygiene and access,... [22].

Since April 2, 2013, the joint sales platform of the Flemish Fish Auction (Oostende-Zeebrugge-Nieuwpoort) started, this is a joint sales system of the Flemish Fish Auction of Oostende-Zeebrugge. The auction system is the result of a cooperation agreement signed on January 5, 2012 between the Flemish Fish Auction and the Fish Auction of Nieuwpoort, in the presence of Prime Minister Kris Peeters. The system is partly funded by the Flemish government and the European Fisheries Fund. Due to this cooperation agreement, the market is opened for all potential buyers, also buyers from abroad are attracted in this way as they can buy online. The Auction of Nieuwpoort is even preparing an advertising campaign in the North of France. This all means that more buyers and end consumers will appreciate the fresh fish of Nieuwpoort and thus the fishing sector of Nieuwpoort [17].


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