Fisheries in Zeebrugge

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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) [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 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[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 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 [5].

Port description

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Zeebrugge (51°20’N 3°12’E) is a village of the Belgian coast and a subdivision of Bruges and has a population of 4000 people. Zeebrugge is Belgium’s most import fishing port and one of Europe’s largest wholesale fish market.

The port of Zeebrugge is managed by an autonomous company regulated by public law; the Port authority/MBZ nv established in 1895. In the 1970’s the port of Zeebrugge developed from a coastal port into a deep sea port due to the increasing scale of the ships. A new sea lock with entrance to an inner port gave Zeebrugge new opportunities. Since 1985 the total cargo traffic tripled from 14 million tonnes to 43.5 million tonnes in 2012[6].

The first fishing port of Zeebrugge was built in 1906. At that time the fishing port could harbor 40 small inshore fishing vessels. Fish was sold directly to local fish mongers. In 1909 a wooden barrack was built for fishermen to sell their fish. In 1924 the first fish auction of Zeebrugge was built on the same place as the barrack. The city council of Bruges set the first official fish sales in the fish auction in 1926. By then the fishing fleet of Zeebrugge was growing resulting in expansion of the fishing port.[7] (Anon., 1978) At the moment Zeebrugge is one of the main fishing ports in Europe. Since 2009 the fish auction of Oostende and Zeebrugge joined to form the “Flemish Fish Auction”. The "European Fish Centre" is the complex for the supply, trade and handling of fish. The Fish Auction located in Zeebrugge offers the wholesalers the possibility to join the electronic auction. The main species landed in Zeebrugge are sole, plaice, cod, lemon sole, skate, haddock, squid, scallops, shrimps, monkfish, brill, turbot and langoustines [8]. Also frozen fish is stored in the Auction of Zeebrugge, for that the Zeebrugge Food Logistics was established, a company who provides warehousing at -22°C[9].

Fig. 1: Z.186 Shannon (built in 1975) located near the new fish auction of Zeebrugge (Source: VLIZ photo gallery)

Fishing Fleet

In 2013 a total of 43 fishing vessels were registered in Zeebrugge [10] from which only 5 fishing vessel are defined as inshore fishing vessels (indicated in blue in the table below): the Z.8 AQUARIUS, Z.55 GOEDE HOOP, Z.63 THALASSA, Z.582 ASANNAT and the Z.700 BRAVEHEART. 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)
Z.8 AQUARIUS 21.91 56 1967 220
Z.18 SOETKIN 37.79 386 2000 905
Z.19 SONJA 30.7 159 1974 515
Z.35 ORA ET LABORA 38.22 384 1997 957
Z.39 ZUIDERZEE 32.5 251 1982 706
Z.45 STEPHANIE 37.78 388 1996 960
Z.47 DE MARIE LOUISE 38.31 387 1992 1145
Z.53 VAN EYCK 34.29 243 1981 662
Z.55 GOEDE HOOP 23.99 60 1962 221
Z.56 PIETER 23.83 140 1999 221
Z.59 RAQUEL 37.2 275 1981 957
Z.60 BLUE ANGEL 37.83 388 2001 706
Z.63 THALASSA 20.04 68 1987 219
Z.67 RUBENS 34.9 284 1984 707
Z.75 ZELDENRUST 23.75 89 1986 218
Z.80 SILVERPIT 23.85 78 1984 221
Z.84 CALYPSO 34.9 284 1989 750
Z.85 MORGENSTER 23.82 82 1987 221
Z.90 FRANCINE 37.88 311 1983 960
Z.98 OP HOOP VAN ZEGEN 33.67 273 1991 750
Z.99 ARAVIS 29.8 252 1989 476
Z.121 DEBORAH 37.87 385 1992 960
Z.198 MARGARET OF LADRAM 33.07 264 1998 750
Z.201 JOB SENIOR 23.94 139 1996 221
Z.279 RAMBLERS 33.18 143 1969 221
Z.296 MOOIE MEID 37.8 390 2000 957
Z.333 AVATAR 37.45 385 1993 1030
Z.402 NOOITGEDACHT 23.99 102 2000 221
Z.431 ALLES WISSELT 23.94 130 1997 221
Z.468 CLEANER 23.97 100 1988 221
Z.474 HESSEL SR. 23.93 130 1994 220
Z.483 JASMINE 37.81 385 2001 961.1
Z.510 DENNIS 37.96 388 2000 957
Z.525 SYLVIA-MARY 23.85 138 1997 221
Z.526 VAYA CON DIOS 36.11 351 1999 888
Z.548 FLAMINGO 37.72 396 1994 942
Z.571 CUSTOS DEUS 38.93 372 1989 959
Z.575 HEIN SENIOR 23.99 102 2000 221
Z.576 MARE NOSTRUM 37.89 385 1999 959
Z.582 ASANNAT 21 62 1961 221
Z.596 DE ZWERVER 37.09 366 1988 960
Z.700 BRAVEHEART 14.8 23 2012 221
Z.738 KARIENA-MARJANNE 27.84 128 2002 221

Tabel 1: Fishing vessels of Zeebrugge. 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 working in Zeebrugge from 1944 until 1995. The highest number of fishermen working in Zeebrugge was in 1956, 711 fishermen. The number of fishermen decreased afterwards and counts at the moment about 345 fishermen.

Fishermen Z.jpg
Graph .1. Number of fishermen in Zeebrugge. (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)[11], the landings and values of the Belgian sea fisheries in 2012.

Graph 2 shows the total landings in Belgian harbours (bleu graph) in tonnes and the landings in Zeebrugge (yellow line).

Since 2001 landings started to decline in the fish auction of Zeebrugge. However this decline stopped in 2009. Since then landings started to increase again. This matches to the start of the Flemish Fish Auction (fusion of the fish auction in Oostende and Zeebrugge) which, as can be seen in landing numbers, benefits to the auction in Zeebrugge. At present the auction of Zeebrugge lands around 10000 tonnes a year. The highest value of landings were obtained in 2002 (see Graph 3).

Graph 2 Zeebrugge.jpg
Graph.2. Total landings (tonnes) in Zeebrugge (1929-2012) (Source: HiFi database, De Belgische Zeevisserij).
Landings v Zeebrugge.png
Graph.3. Value of landings (euro) in Zeebrugge (1929-2012) (Source: HiFi database, De Belgische Zeevisserij).

Data of the species landed in Zeebrugge is available from the HiFi database. Graph 4 shows a selection of the most common species landed in Zeebrugge. Most important species that were landed in are sole, plaice, cod, lemon sole, skate, haddock, squid, scallops, shrimps, monkfish, brill, turbot and langoustines [8].

Graph 4 Zeebrugge.jpg
Graph 4: Landings of most important species in Zeebrugge (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[12].

Fig.4. Belgian FLAG area: West Flanders



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[13].

North Sea Life.jpg

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[14].

Fish as Food

Several fish shops are located in Zeebrugge (click here for an overview).

The presence of the fish auction in Zeebrugge attracts fish processing industries. Some examples of fish processing industries are given below.

Fish processing company Neirinck has been located near the Flemish Fish Auction in Zeebrugge since 2012. The company is specialized in processing and filleting of fish for small fish shops but also wholesalers. The company possesses a “filleting” machine for filleting salmon.

Peter-Fish is a well-known wholesaler of fish located in Zeebrugge. Characteristic off the company are that it only buys and sells fish that is caught in a sustainable manner with sustainable fishing techniques. Sustainability can be seen as one of the main priorities of the company. The company buys their fish in the fish auction of Zeebrugge and process (filleting and cut fish, cooking of shellfish and packing)them.

The company nv Zeevisgroothandel Andre was established in 1979 as a wholesaler of fresh and frozen seafood. The company imports and exports fish, is specialized in processing of fish and other fish products, warehousing, storage and transport of cargo. The company takes part of the PEFA (Pan European Fish Auctions)–system, internet connected fish auctions spread all over Europe.

Zeebrugge has several restaurants serving North sea fish. A selection of restaurants is given below.

  • Restaurant Fishbone is located at the harbour of Zeebrugge and offers a panoramic view over the marina which offers daily fresh fish. The restaurant offers seats up to 400 persons.
  • ‘t Pakhuis, a restaurant located next to the “Rederskaai” quay with a view of the marina and the old fish auction. The restaurant serves fresh fish dishes including shrimps from Zeebrugge and north sea lobster.
  • Also restaurant Slabbinck, located in Zeebrugge serves fish on the menu according to the market supply.


Annually a benediction and fishing festival is held in Zeebrugge. The festival starts with a short procession guided by music, a folkloristic fishing group and choreography group. Also a decorated lifeboat is present during the procession. A mass is held on the quay of the fish auction followed by the benediction of the moored fishing boats and pleasure boats. Afterwards several activities are held in and around the fish market[15].

Zeebrugge has a monument for fishermen lost at sea, the “Visserskruis” (Fisherscross). The monument was inaugurated by a bishop from Bruges in 1936. The statue of 16 meters length contains a plate with the names of fishermen lost at sea since 1904 inscribed.

The port of Zeebrugge offers the possibility to visit the port by bus or by boat. The guided tour starts at the “Sea station” with a short introduction movie about the port of Zeebrugge followed by a tour in the port that takes about 75 minutes when the tour is done by bus.

In case the port of Zeebrugge is explored by boat, the guided tour starts at the old fishing port from which a passenger ship will explore the port of Zeebrugge but will also go outside the harbor [6].

Seafront, a maritime theme park about the sea and shipping, fish and fisheries, is located in in the building of the old fish market of Zeebrugge. The fish market moved to a new complex in the back harbor.

Recently a new interactive fishery expo was added to the attractions of the park. The expo "Fish, from the boat right onto your plate" shows the wondrous world of fish and fisheries. Seafront also has outdoor visiting possibilities, a Russian submarine of 100 meters long in which 75 crewmembers lived and worked and the lightship West-Hinder.


Fig. 5: Fisherscross (Belgian Coast / VLIZ (Coppieters), 2007)

Fig. 6: Former lightship West-Hinder (Onze kust/Ryckewaert Christine, 2007)


Background information
Fishing Fleet Vessel type 1 5
Fishing Fleet Vessel type 2 38
Fishing Fleet Vessel type 3
Fishing Fleet Vessels total 43
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 Values Demersal
Landings Values Pelagic
Landings Values Shellfish
Landings Values All species
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 Landing points
Landings Location of auctions The first fishing port of Zeebrugge was built in 1906. 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 Several fish shops are located in Zeebrugge (click here for an overview).
Fish as food Fish processing Fish processing company Neirinck is since 2012 located near the Flemish Fish Auction in Zeebrugge.

Peter-Fish is a well-known wholesaler of fish located in Zeebrugge.
The company nv Zeevisgroothandel Andre was established in 1979 as a wholesaler of fresh and frozen seafood.

Fish as food Restaurants/hotels Restaurant Fishbone

Martins fish restaurant
‘t Pakhuis
restaurant Slabbinck

Tourism & Education Tourism & Fishing The port of Zeebrugge offers the possibility to visit the port by bus or by boat.
Tourism & Education Festivals Annually a benediction and fishing festival is held in Zeebrugge.
Tourism & Education Fishing museums Seafront, a maritime theme park
Tourism & Education Aquariums
Tourism & Education Monuments Monument for fishermen lost at sea, the “Visserskruis”,“Fisherscross”.
Tourism&Education Fishing training School

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:;
Vessel type 2= High sea vessels


  1. 1.0 1.1 Roegiers, B.; Platteau, J.; Van Bogaert, T.; Van Gijseghem, D.; Bekaert, K.; De Bruyne, S.; Delbare, D.; Depestele, J.; Lescrauwaet, A.-K.; Moreau, K.; Polet, H.; Robbens, J.; Vandamme, S.; Van Hoey, G.; Verschueren, B. (2013). VIRA Visserijrapport 2012 Departement Landbouw en Visserij: Brussel. 98 pp.
  2. 2.0 2.1 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.
  3. Anon. (2008). Strategische Milieubeoordeling van het Nationaal Operationeel Plan voor de Belgische visserijsector, 2007 - 2013. ILVO Visserij: Oostende. 103 pp.
  4. 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.
  5. Anon. (2011). Europees Visserijfonds (EVF). AS 4: ontwikkelingsstrategie voor het Belgisch kustgebied. Europees Visserijfonds: (s.l.). 33 pp.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Port of Zeebrugge
  7. Anon. (1978). Zeebrugge: vismijn, vissershaven. Gemeentebestuur Brugge: Brugge. 23, tables pp.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Vlaamse Visveiling N.V.
  9. Zeebrugge Food Logistics
  10. 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.
  11. Tessens, E.; Velghe, M. (Ed.) (2013). De Belgische zeevisserij 2012: Aanvoer en besomming: Vloot, quota, vangsten, visserijmethoden en activiteit. Dienst Zeevisserij: Oostende. 119 pp.
  12. FLAG factsheet - Belgium - West Flanders
  13. De Kust kijkt verder: Purus Garnaal
  14. ILVO ziet in rauwe garnaal meer dan lucratieve niche