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Key findings - Belgium

Composition of the Belgian seafood sector

Belgian fishing companies generated approximately EUR 82 million in landings income in 2015 (Table 9). Processing companies further generated approximately EUR 592 million in 2016.

Belgium had a relatively high trade deficit in the fisheries segment. While it exported produce worth EUR 996 million, imports reached a value of EUR 1.9 billion. Belgium therefore had a trade deficit in the fisheries segment of EUR 871 million.

Neighbouring countries France, the Netherlands and Germany received the largest proportions of Belgian fish exports at 34%, 30% and 11% respectively. The Netherlands  and France were also Belgium’s largest suppliers, providing respectively 27% and 10% of total fish imports in 2016. In total, 62% of Belgian fish imports originated in other EU member states. 99% of Belgium’s fish exports went to other EU countries.

There were only 73 registered fishing vessels in Belgium as of 2017. These belonged to 77 enterprises. Only 2.6% of the enterprises in Belgium operated more than one vessel.

The fish catching segment employed 492 FTE in 2015. The fish processing segment employed 592 FTE in the same year.

Table 9: Belgian seafood sector key figures

Table 9: Belgian seafood sector key figures

Table 9: Belgian seafood sector key figures


Eurostat (2018, January), GDP and main components (output, expenditure and income) [nama_10_gdp] 2015, viewed in January 2018; Eurostat (2018, January), Total employment (resident population concept – LFS) – annual data [lfsi_emp_a] 2016, viewed in January 2018; STECF (2017, December), STECF 17-12 EU Fleet Economic and Transversal data_national level 2015; STECF (2017, December), STECF 17-12 EU Fleet Economic and Transversal data_national level 2015; STECF (2017, December), STECF 17-12 EU Fleet Economic and Transversal data_national level 2015; Eurostat (2017, December), Turnover or gross premiums written (NACE Rev 2, C10.20) [sbs_na_ind_r2] 2015, viewed in January 2018; Eurostat (2017, December), Employees in full time equivalent units (NACE Rev 2, C10.20) [sbs_na_ind_r2] 2015, viewed in January 2018; STECF (2014, December), STECF 14-21 EU Fishing Processing Industry data tables 2012; Eurostat (2018, January), EU trade since 1988 by HS2-HS4 [DS-016894] 2016, viewed in January 2018.

Overall, the majority of fish products in Belgium are destined for the retail market. 89% of canned, and 82% of frozen fish and fish products are sold to retailers. About one third of fresh fish is sold to the food service industry (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Belgium: Fish product end industry

In Belgium, about three quarters of canned and 60% of frozen fish and fish products are branded. Of fresh fish only 15% is branded. 40% of frozen fish is sold under retailers’ own labels while this is the case for one third of fresh fish (see Table 10).

Table 10: Belgium and Luxembourg: Fish product retail composition

Important brands for frozen fish include Iglo (part of Nomad (UK)) with a market share of approximately 48% of the frozen segment, and Pescanova (Spain) with around 11%.
Nomad’s Iglo also holds a market share of around 5% in fresh fish. Imperial Fish (part of Sopralex & Vosmarques (Belgium) holds a share of around 33% of the canned fish segment.  In the dried/smoked/salted segment, Gabriel is a key brand with a market share of approximately 23% (FFT, 2018).

Producer organisations

There is only one producer organisation active in Belgium – Rederscentrale (Producentenorganisatie van de Reders ter Zeevisserij), located in Oostende (European Commission, 2017).

The producer organisation has 67 members (Rederscentrale, 2018). In 2017, 73 vessels were registered, of which 67 (92%) were active (STECF, 2018). Three companies are not members of the PO.

Once a fisherman has an authorised vessel and a commercial fishing licence, they have access to the national fishing quotas, which are rationed to all fishermen on the principle of universal access. These quotas come in the form of catch limits for individual vessels. Access to fishing opportunities is centrally managed by the Flemish fisheries ministry, in co-management with the PO (Brouckaert, 2018).

Catch limits are not a form of legal ownership in the Belgian system. Individual vessels  must comply with the catch limits set for their respective fleet segment and cannot swap or trade their catch limit. When a catch limit is exceeded, it is deducted from that vessel’s quota for the next year, in addition to a 20% penalty. Where quotas are underutilised, quotas are carried over to the next quota period of the same year. Thus, quota utilisation is encouraged through central management rather than through individual transfers. The only way to acquire additional quotas is through purchasing another active vessel with its associated fishing licence (Brouckaert, 2018).

Company analysis

There are no pelagic freezer-trawlers present in the Belgian fishing fleet. In the demersal sector approximately 70 vessels are active, owned by 58 owners. Belgian cutters only catch limited amounts of pelagic fish, mostly as by-catch (de Groote, 2018). A large share of the Belgian pelagic fish quota is swapped with other countries – particularly the Netherlands and Germany – for demersal fish quota (Rederscentrale, 2017; de Groote, 2018).

There are two companies/families that own three vessels, the Belgian Desmit family and the Dutch fisherman Joos De Ridder. Of the seven owners that own two vessels, the Belgian family Depaepe owns the largest vessels. Desmit, De Ridder and Depaepe are discussed in the following sections.

The Belgian fleet consists of 67 active vessels. All vessels are engaged in the demersal fisheries. This includes 13 vessels targeting shrimp. It is unclear whether they also target other species. The fleet consists of the large fleet segment (48%; vessels with main power between 221 kW and 1200 kW) and the small fleet segment (52%; vessels with main power of 221 kW or lower).

Table 11: Companies/families with more than one vessel

46 (66%) fishing vessels operating in Belgium are ultimately owned by Belgian legal persons. 24 vessels (34%) are foreign owned, namely by Dutch (20 vessels; 29%); British (2 vessels; 2.9%), French (1 vessel; 1.4%) and Spanish (1 vessel; 1.4%) legal persons (Staatsbladmonitor, 2018). The foreign entities are listed in Table 12.

Table 12: Foreign ownership of Belgian fish catching companies

The remainder of this section provides company structure analyses of three Belgian fishing companies/families that operate two or more vessels.


The Desmit Family owns three demersal cutters in the small coastal fleet segment (main engine < 221 kW). One vessel is owned through BVBA Aran, the other two vessels are owned through BVBA Lucien Desmit (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Desmit Family company structure

The Desmit family’s operations show indications of horizontal integration through the ownership of multiple fishing vessels. However, they have not engaged in vertical integration, likely as they focus primarily on demersal species which are generally not subjected to industrial scale processing.

De Ridder

Fisherman Joos De Ridder owns three demersal cutters in the small coastal fleet segment (main engine < 221 kW) in Belgium. The immediate owner of the vessels is Rederij de Ridder BVBA (see Figure 4). They mainly target Langoustine (Norway lobster).

In the Netherlands Joos de Ridder operates two more fishing vessels through the companies J.J. de Ridder Beheer BV (Urk) and Zeevisserijbedrijf De Ridder BV (Urk) (KvK, 2018a).

Figure 4: De Ridder Family company structure

Joos de Ridder has engaged in horizontal interation. He operates vessels in both the Netherlands and Belgium. Moreover, he operates multiple vessels in each of these countries. The primary focus on demersal species explains why he has not engaged in vertical integration.


The Depaepe Family owns two demersal cutters in the large coastal fleet segment (main engine > 221 kW). The two vessels, with a main engine of 1200 kW, are among the largest vessels in the Belgian fleet.

Figure 5: Depaepe Family company structure

The Depaepe Family has engaged in horizontal integration through its fleet expansion. Given its main target is demersal species, it has not engaged in vertical integration.


Horizontal integration has taken place within the Belgian fish catching segment, as a number of stronger enterprises took overfishing vessels in order to acquire the licenses. The vessel whose license is transferred to an existing vessel in the company group is then decommissioned, used for other purposes, or sold abroad. In cases where two licenses are put on one vessel, horizontal integration has led to reduced employment. However, as these companies have more quota rights, they can generate  more income (de Groote, 2018). Horizontal integration has not had an impact on fish prices, which are driven by the market.

Notable is the significant level of foreign investment in Belgian fisheries, applying to 34% of the fleet. Belgian fishermen do not have the capital resources to invest abroad. The Belgian government has put in place measures to ensure that the Belgian fisheries segment continues to benefit from fish catching, even though there is such a high level of foreign ownership. One of these measures is the regulation stipulating that at least 50% of Belgian catch is sold directly at Belgian auction. In practice this means that Dutch fishermen owning and operating Belgian vessels which often land in the Netherlands transport their catch by road to auction in Belgium (de Groote, 2018).

There is no evidence of vertical integration in the Belgian seafood industry. This is primarily due to Belgian fishermen targeting demersal species which are generally subject to industrial scale processing.

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