Belgian fishing industry flounders

Belgian fishing industry flounders
A fishing boat out of Zeebrugge. © PxHere

Between May and June this year, the Belgian fishing industry saw a drop in seasonal catches. In June, just 675 tonnes of fish were landed by Belgian vessels and sold in Belgian ports, according to data published by Statbel, the Belgian statistics agency.

This fall has been partially blamed on the rising cost of fuel and expenses. According to forecasts from the National Bank of Belgium, the fishing industry is set to be one of the biggest losers of the year. With fuel prices accounting for around 38% of inputs for the industry, the sector could finish with big losses.

Despite an exceptional year in 2021, Belgium's fishing industry has witnessed a steady decrease in the value and quantity of fish landed and sold in the country. Since 2000, the total tonnage of fish caught off the Belgian coast has dropped 32%.

Belgium's waters become busier

This is partly due to years of overfishing and also the concentration of offshore wind turbines, undersea cables, protected habitats, and military waters. Belgian waters amount to just 2,000 square kilometres. The port of Ostend was once a hub for Belgium fishing, but many fishermen have been put out of business by commercial fishing haulers from other countries.

In 2000, 1,679 tonnes of cod were caught in Belgian waters. Now significantly overfished, catches are getting smaller and smaller. Last year, just 220 tonnes were caught.

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Last year, record-high fish prices created exceptional turnover for the industry, which rose to €60.8 million. This helped keep the industry afloat in face of pandemic-related difficulties. At its peak in 2005, the fishing industry once had a turnover of €78 million.

Of the fish caught this summer, sole remains dominant. 180 tonnes were caught in 2021, making up 27% of the total fish sold in Belgium. Landings of plaice significantly recovered this year, accounting for 99 tonnes – 15% of total landings.

Shrimp, voted species of the year by the Flemish Centre for Agro and Fisheries Marketing (VLAM), amounted to 19 tonnes in June.

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