Shrimp Fishing on Horseback - Gastro Obscura
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Ritual & Medicinal

Shrimp Fishing on Horseback

This dying practice requires total trust between horse and rider.

In the small Belgian town of Oostduinkerke, a small number of families maintain a disappearing practice that was once a common sight along the Belgian coast and European waterways: fishermen riding horses through shallow waters. They’re braving the chilly surf in search of shrimp.

Horse and rider venture out until the water reaches the animal’s chest. Behind them, a chain and net stretch back into the waves. As the horse walks, the chain drags over the sand and creates vibrations that cause the shrimp to jump into the net. Every half hour or so, the team returns to shore so the horse can rest and the fisherman can sort through the catch with sieves.

This kind of fishing is no longer economically viable, which is why it’s now found only in Oostduinkerke. (Financial support from the tourism board helps keep the tradition, which was named to UNESCO’s intangible heritage list, afloat.) Still, it’s not a performance: You can find the day’s catch for sale in town.

Need to Know

The fishermen can ride out any time of year, but it's rare during the winter. You'll find crowds enjoying the sight in warmer, summer months. In nearby Koksijde, the National Fisheries Museum chronicles the history and culture of shrimp fishing on horseback. To try the catch, look for tomate-crevettes on local menus. The annual shrimp festival in June also spotlights this type of fishing.

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