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Shrimp farming by horseback in Oosduinkerke

Shrimp farming by horseback in Oosduinkerke, Belgium

Head to the beach for a few hours and watch fishermen farm shrimp on horseback — a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity activity. One of the most unusual cultural events in Belgium, this tradition dates back to at least the 15th century, when it was common across Belgium, France, England and the Netherlands. Now, it’s estimated there are only about 15–20 of these fishermen left, all on the Belgian coast.

When you arrive at the beach, you’ll see the fishermen decked out head-to-toe in yellow gear to protect themselves from the cold waters. They use Brabant draft horses for fishing because of their incredible strength and ability to pull a net behind them in chest-high water. You’ll get to watch the fishermen and horses in the water for about 45 minutes, before they come to shore to cook up their spoils in a beachfront cookout.

Spend a few hours at the beach watching fishermen farm shrimp by horseback, a heritage specific to western Flanders and the coastal town of Oostduinkerke. You can start your day from either Bruges or Ghent, and a private driver will bring you to the beach. Oostduinkerke is located in the northwest of Belgium on the North Sea, where the beaches are flat, making the conditions ideal for shrimp farming.

When you arrive at the beach, you’ll meet the fishermen, decked out in bright-yellow rain jackets and rubber boots. The fishermen use Brabant draft horses, which are exceedingly strong and are able to walk through chest-high waters as they drag long, funnel-shaped nets behind them.

The fishing breaks every 30 minutes or so to give the horses a rest, during which the fishermen sort through their nets. The grey shrimp go in wicker baskets hanging from the horses’ sides, while small fish, crustaceans and jellyfish are thrown back into the sea.

The fishing demonstration lasts for about 45 minutes, and is followed by a beach cookout where you can try the fresh shrimp.

The demonstration and cookout is available between April and November, when low tide coincides with daytime hours. After the cookout, your private driver will bring you back to Bruges or Ghent.

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