The Belgian coastline may not be the most picturesque in Europe. The wet, gray skies, the constant wind and the blockhouse-like condominiums do not always put one in the mood for a beach holiday. However, in Oostduinkerke, if one turns facing the sea, one can almost forget all of that and imagine oneself in another era. Here in this tiny Flemish town, fishermen continue the traditional method of fishing for shrimp on horseback. It is the only remaining place in the world where this is still practiced.
In summer and in winter, rain or shine, the fishermen mount their horses and plod slowly into the sea. They fish at low tide, their horses chest deep in the water, dragging their nets through the surf in hopes of catching gray shrimp. It all seems like so much work for such small reward, but these tiny crustaceans are a delicacy in Belgium and fetch a pretty price at the market. They can be seen on almost every menu in the country, usually stuffed in a tomato with mayonnaise or fried in croquetten. They are also delicious to nibble on plain. Gray shrimp are so small that there’s no need to even remove the shell, just the head.
At the end of June, Oostduinkerke hosts a shrimp festival where one can observe this traditional method of fishing as well as sample the catch of the day. This year the festival will be held from June 23 to 24. The schedule can be found here in the summer brochure (PDF). Scheduled outings of the shrimp fishermen for 2012 are also listed.