The Belgian fishing fleet will this week take delivery of the first major new boat to join the fleet in 20 years. The boat will be named Jasmine.
“We are not expanding the fleet,” said Emiel Brouckaert, president of the fleet management. “This is a replacement for an old vessel that is worn out and will take on another function. The Z384 Jasmine was taken out of service a year ago.”
These are tough times for the Belgian fishing fleet, all of whose boats sail out of the Flemish posts. Since the United Kingdom left the European Union at the start of the year, disputes have persisted about the right of Belgian fishing boats to fish in British waters, and to what extent.
But new boats are needed if the industry is to survive. After Jasmine, another six are due to arrive in the coming months. But the planning is not perfect, as it turns out.
“If we’d known what was coming our way, we wouldn’t have ordered nearly as many,” said Dirk Demaeght, former chaplain to the fleet, ready to baptise the new Jasmine.
The new boat is the property of Dany Vlietinck, aged 57, who also signed the contract for the last new boat in 2001. Since then, the industry suffered more than a decade of hardship, until about 2013, when fortunes began to turn.
During that period, fishers were faced with high fuel prices that forced some into bankruptcy. Then in 2016 the British voted to leave the EU.
But fish prices have been rising since 2015, leading some operators to dare to invest again. Each of the new boats expected this year, Jasmine included, costs in the region of €5-€7 million. The renewal means more than 10% of the fleet of 65 boats will be brand new.
The renaissance of the fleet was timely; the average age of a Belgian fishing boat is 39 years at present.
“That is not optimal,” said Brouckaert. “It makes it much more difficult to achieve the sustainability targets that Europe is pushing forward. Also in terms of safety, the environment and working conditions.”
And there is another reason for renewing the fleet, according to Dany Vlietinck.
“The Belgian fisheries must also innovate in order to continue to find enough young people who see a future in a job as a fisherman,” he said.