Fisheries in Blankenberge
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 .
Blankenberge (Geographical coordinates: 51°18′N 03°07′E) is a coastal town in Belgium and has a population of 19 500 people. Blankenberge has a long history of inshore fishing. The Blankenberge fleet were typical inshore fishing boats; small fishing boats with a wide bottom that were easy to slide from the beach. Fisheries in Blankenberge flourished in the late 17th century. At that time Blankenberge had the most important fleet from the Flemish coast. A first ship wharf was built in 1780. And in the 19th century the fishing port of Blankenberge expanded with first the construction of a harbour and the port channel. Formerly the fish was sold on the streets. In 1868 a room was arranged for fish sale, this room was called the “hangar” by the fishermen of Blankenberge. Despite the presence of an accommodation, fishers kept selling their fish on the streets and in 1875 the “hangar” was pulled down. In 1888 the sale of fish on the streets disappeared with the deployment of the fish auction. The last fish auction was held on 3rd of September 1958. In 1959 the fish auction was pulled down and a new one was built however this new fish auction has never been used, except for shrimp fisheries, due to the fisheries shutdown in Blankenberge. From that time onwards, fishermen of Blankenberge started selling their fish in the fish auctions of Oostende and Zeebrugge. In 1955 the fishing port of Blankenberge was reorganized into a marina which indicated the start for Blankenberge to grow into a touristic seaside town .
Fig.1. Fish auction of Blankenberge (Source: De Soete (2000))
In 2013 a total of 4 fishing vessels were registered in Blankenberge  from which 1 fishing vessel is defined as an inshore fishing vessel (indicated in blue in the table below): the B.65 ARTEVELDE. 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)|
|B.462||WILLIAM OF LADRAM||37.81||385||2000||960|
Tabel 1: Fishing vessels of Blankenberge. Inshore fishing vessels are indicated in blue.(Officiële lijst van de Belgische vissersvaartuigen (Toestand op 31 december 2013))
As already mentioned, there are almost no fishing activities left in Blankenberge. The number of fishermen is for this reason low. Graph 1 illustrates the number of fishermen from 1944 until 2012 with a peak of around 85 fishermen in 1944 and 1945. The number decreased after that and counts at the moment less than 40 fishermen.
Graph 1. Number of fishermen in Blankenberge. (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 Blankenberge (red line). As explained earlier, landings in the auction of Blankenberge stopped in 1958. This means that only landings data from 1929 until 1958 are available. As is shown on the graph, the contribution of landings in the harbor of Blankenberge to the total landings of Belgian ports is small. There was a peak of 1571100 kg landings in Blankenberge in 1945. From that time onwards landings started to decrease in Blankenberge and stopped in 1958 with the closing of the fish auction. The same is true for the value of landings in Blankenberge (graph 3). The highest values were obtained in the year with the highest amount of landings: 1945 had a value of 40000 thousand €.
Graph 2. Landings (kg) in Blankenberge (Source: HiFi database)
Graph 3. Landings values (in 1000€) in Blankenberge (Source: HiFi database)
Data of the species landed in Blankenberge is available from the HiFi database. Graph 4 shows a selection of the most common species landed in Blankenberge. Most important species that were landed in Blankenberge from 1929-1957 are Plaice, Sole, Herring, Whiting and Rays.
Graph 4. Landings (kg) of most important species in Blankenberge (1929-1958) (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.
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
Blankenberge has several restaurants serving North sea fish from which restaurant the Oesterput is an unique seafood restaurant. It is located in an old fish wholesale barn in the industrial area of Blankenberge, a few meters from the port and dunes. Everything in and around the restaurant refers to the sea. The restaurant has the oldest and biggest lobster basins in Belgium. Because of the direct connection of the restaurant to the sea, the lobsters stay in an optimal cooled environment. The restaurant opened in 1986 and became a great success. The oysters are directly imported from France and lobsters are imported from Halifax in Canada and cultivated in the restaurant. Fresh fish arrives daily from Zeebrugge.
There are several fish shops in Blankenberge (click here for an overview).
Daniel’s visbedrijf, “Daniels fish company”, is a company located in Blankenberge that is, since 15 years, active in the fish process industry. They do import, export, processing and distribution of fresh and frozen fish and fish products.
Although fishery activity disappeared in Blankenberge, the history of fisheries is still part of the city. Each year during the Ascension weekend, the “havenfeesten”, “(harbor festivals)” are held. The feast originate from the harbor area and is grown into a touristic folkloric event. During the festivities, people wear traditional fisheries costumes dating from the 19th century.
The festival starts with floral tributes in memory of the fishermen lost at sea at the statue of a first mate which is called “Sterken Dries” by local people. The statue was built in 1960 by Guillaume Charlier as a tribute to the fishermen of Blankenberge and is located at the entrance of the harbour.
Another traditional event is the Sea benediction, “Zeewijding”, in the beginning of July. The sea benediction used to introduce the bathing season, none of the residents would go into the sea before the sea benediction took place. The tradition still exists today. The open air mass held during the sea benediction includes a memorial of fishermen lost at sea, together with a request for protection for everyone who goes to the sea. Blankenberge has two museums related to fisheries.
- The Maritime Museum "De Scute" is the museum from the non-profit organization “De Scute”. The organization was established in 1992 and aims to revalue the fishing heritage of Blankenberge. Since 2008 the organization has a small museum located above a hangar in which the organization is restoring a ship, the B1 Sint-Pieter. The collection includes photographs, paintings, objects of fisheries in Blankenberge and also information about the rebuilding of a fishing fleet of Blankenberge.
- The Zeemuseum Vuurtoren Zeegenootschap is a nautical didactical information center located within the lighthouse at the port of Blankenberge. The collection in the hall includes all kind of relicts from the maritime history of Blankenberge. In the staircase pictures from old fishermen of Blankenberge are shown.
The city also invest into touristic activities related to fisheries. As there is the shrimp fishing boat, the B72 Jaqueline-Denise, a wooden ketch that was built in Oostende in 1939. It is one of the typical shrimp fishing boats that were operational between the two world wars. In 1991 the ship came to Blankenberge and in 2005 restoration works started to make the ship operational for trips at sea. At the moment groups can make trips at sea with the B72 Jaqueline-Denise while learning about the history and restoration of the ship. Often the trips are combined with a visit to the Maritime Museum De Scute.
In 1994 the “Blankenbergse Havenwandeling”, harbor walk in Blankenberge was introduced for the first time. A walk of 4.5 kilometers gives a historic exploration of the harbor area.
Blankenberge is home to one of the 35 SEA LIFE centers. SEA LIFE is located all over the world. SEA LIFE in Blankenberge has more than 50 aquariums that accommodates over 2500 sea creatures.
On the 1st of October 1890 the “Vrije Visserijschool” (Free Fisheries School ) opened its doors in the classrooms of the Sint-Pietersschool and Genootschap der Xaverianen in the Wetstraat in Blankenberge. Courses were organized during the day, evening and weekends for children but also for adults . E.H. Carlier, the first director of the free fisheries school ran the school together with three teachers that gave theoretical courses, three teachers for practical courses and one doctor for first aid classes.
Multiple factors caused the closure of the free fisheries school at the end of the school year in 1950-1951. Among other things, the end of fisheries in Blankenberge and consequently a lack of students interest in a future in fisheries caused the close of the school. Also the fact that fisheries evolved with new techniques in terms of materials and equipment did not help the situation either. The school was not equipped for these new materials and equipment which caused, together with other reasons, the end of the fisheries school in Blankenberge.
Fig.5. Students from the Fisheries school in Blankenberge (Source: Boterberge (2010)).
|Fishing Fleet||Vessel type 1||1|
|Fishing Fleet||Vessel type 2||3|
|Fishing Fleet||Vessel type 3|
|Fishing Fleet||Vessels total||4|
|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||In 1959 the fish auction in Blankenberge closed. Since then, the fishermen of Blankenberge started selling their fish in the fish auction of Oostende and Zeebrugge. 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||There are several fish shops in Blankenberge (click here for an overview).|
|Fish as food||Fish processing||Daniel’s visbedrijf, “Daniels fish company”, is a company located in Blankenberge that has been active in the fish process industry for 15 years.|
|Fish as food||Restaurants/hotels|
|Tourism & Education||Tourism & Fishing||In 1994 the “Blankenbergse Havenwandeling”, harbor walk in Blankenberge was introduced for the first time. A walk of 4.5 kilometers gives a historic exploration of the harbor area.|
Groups can make trips at sea with the B72 Jaqueline-Denise, a shrimp fishing boat, while learning about the history and restoration of the ship.
|Tourism & Education||Festivals||Each year during the Ascension weekend, the “havenfeesten”, “harbor festivals” are held.|
A Sea benediction, “Zeewijding”, in the beginning of July.
|Tourism & Education||Fishing museums||The Maritime Museum "De Scute" is the museum from the non-profit organization “De Scute”.|
The Zeemuseum Vuurtoren Zeegenootschap is a nautical didactical information center located within the lighthouse at the port of Blankenberge.
|Tourism & Education||Aquariums||Blankenberge is home to one of the 35 SEA LIFE centers. SEA LIFE is located all over the world. SEA LIFE in Blankenberge has more than 50 aquariums that accommodates over 2500 sea creatures.|
|Tourism & Education||Monuments||"Sterken Dries", a statue of a first mate that was built in 1960 by Guillaume Charlier as a tribute to the fishermen of Blankenberge. It is located at the entrance of the harbour.|
|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: 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.
- De Soete, D. (2000). De Blankenbergse zeevisserij. Van de Wiele: Brugge. ISBN 90-76297-07-X. 128 pp.
- 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
- Beun, A.-S.; Lanszweert, W.; Leerman, F.; Steevens, I. (2013). Kinderen in de visserij en het onderwijsaanbod, in: Steevens, I. et al. (Ed.) (2013). Zeevisserij aan de Vlaamse kust. pp. 68-91
- Boterberge, R. (2010). Geschiedenis van het Blankenbergse visserijbedrijf. Stadsbestuur Blankenberge: Blankenberge. ISBN 9789081515801. 397 pp.