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Flemish fishermen en route to Iceland during the Cod Wars

O.81 John, O.182 Caesar, Flemish deep sea fishing, history of the Cod Wars, Iceland, Amandine

Joris Surmont sailed as an engineer on two Iceland trawlers. He testifies about his experience in a lecture and a book. In his work, he gives a survey of the history of Flemish fishing activities in the vicinity of Iceland from the 17th century until 1995. In that year the Amandine, the last Flemish Iceland trawler, was taken out of service. Before the age of steam, fishermen undertook six-month voyages on board of sailing fishing vessels. The sailors then used individual fishing lines with one or two baited hooks. The fish that was caught was gutted, salted and stored in barrels. With the rise of the steam trawlers at the beginning of the 20th century, the fish was stored in ice and landed fresh. The steam trawlers, and their successors the diesel engine trawlers, fished with large otter trawls dragged on the seafloor. The storage process using ice reduced the duration of the voyages to a maximum of 18 days. In that relatively short period, they retrieved much more fish than their predecessors did with fishing lines.

Heimaey, fish stocks, Vestmanneayjar, Cod Wars, Iceland, trawler

The navigation to Iceland, 1000 nautical miles off the Flemish coast, often appeals to the imagination. The rough seas in the North Atlantic and at Pentland Firth, north of Scotland, on the one hand, and the hard work in rough weather, devoid of any comfort, gave rise to an extraordinary experience. The first part of the lecture ends with the question of whether the protectionist measures taken by the Icelandic government were justified. Are fishing quotas efficient and how can we better protect the fish stocks? What characterizes a good fishery policy?

The Documentary

O.182 Caesar, 0.81 John, Ostend trawlers, Cod Wars, maritime guide, playwright Joris Surmont, fishery policy

The documentary "Winden" is part of the presentation. The speaker recorded the movie during his stay on the side trawler O.182 Caesar fishing at the Icelandic south coast, in the period 1972-1976. As a result of the Cod War in 1972, the foreign ships had to divert to fishing grounds off the coast of Iceland. The Caesar did not return to Iceland until 1975, after the third Cod War. The title of the documentary refers to the waking up call for the crew, announcing a new hoist of the trawl. The fishermen hoisted the net on average every three hours day and night. After unloading the catch on deck, the trawl was immediately set over the side. On a side trawler, the trawl warps pass through blocks hanging from two gallows on the port or the starboard side. In summer, about 60 tows were usually carried out; in the chilly, foggy and stormy winter nights barely 20.

side trawler, history of the Cod Wars, 1972,1975, trawlers, Belgian fishing industry

Surmont (1954) lives in De Haan, along the Flemish coast. He comes from Ostend where he was a student at Municipal Fisheries School ‘John Bauwens’ and graduated as candidate skipper and engineer. At the age of 15, he embarked as an apprentice, aboard the O.32 Roland, an Ostend shrimp trawler. Later he was appointed engineer and engaged on deep-sea trawlers fishing in the vicinity of Iceland and on beam trawlers fishing in the Celtic and Irish seas.
In 1976 Surmont joined the Belgian MOD, where he studied electronic engineering. Joris served until his retirement in the Navy and sailed on board the Belgian frigates the Westdiep, the Wielingen and the Wandelaar.
Commander Surmont is also a tourist guide in the city of Bruges and the Hinterland of Bruges. He is specialised in maritime heritage and recently created a new guided thematic walk unveiling maritime Bruges.


Joris has been giving lectures in Dutch about deep-sea fishing in the vicinity of Iceland as well:

treilvisser, Vigneron-Dahl-patentnet, zeevisserij, ijslandvaarders, ijslandvaart, erfgoedgids, streekgids, voordracht, lezing

Other useful links:

More information about sustainable fisheries.
Visit the Iceland trawler Amandine and the three-masted sailing vessel Mercator in Ostend.