Pintafish seminar of 21 November 2015

A better understanding of the complexity of a sustainable fish choice

Report: Nancy Fockedey – Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ)


On Saturday 21 November 2015 the information and contact day of Pintafish took place in the Cinema City in Nieuwpoort, open to anyone who wanted to gain a better understanding of the complexity of a sustainable fish choice.

Pintafish, the organiser, is a company that wants to treat the Flemish fishing industry and sea life ethically and sustainably. On this information day Pintafish wanted to look back on the road they had travelled, as well as present their philosophy and future plans. Scientists and other experts gave a further explanation of the ecological and socioeconomic sustainability aspects of Belgian fish.

Among those present were professionals from the fishing industry, representatives of food teams and their members, private customers, scientists and even representatives of the European Committee. The 100 attendees all had one thing in common: a great love of Belgian sustainable fish.



Moderation - Greet Riebels, communication manager, Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO)

10:00-10:05 Wout Vertsteden

Welcome on behalf of Pintafish

10:05-10:10 Kris Vandecasteele, Schepen Visserij, City of Nieuwpoort

Welcome on behalf of the City of Nieuwpoort

10:10-10:30 Wim Versteden, manager and founder, Pintafish

Philosophy, challenges and plans for the future

10:30-10:50 Danny Huyghebaert, manager, Huyghebaert & Zoon

Purchase of Belgian fishing ships and method

10:50-11:10 Arne Kinds, fishery biologist, Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO)

Towards sustainable Belgian fishery: successes and challenges

11:10-11:30 Krien Hansen, policy manager, Natuurpunt

Agreement for sustainable Belgian fishery & the Fishing Process

11:30-11:50 Kelle Moreau, fishery biologist, Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO)

Belgian fish: species and status

11:50-12:10 Filip De Bodt, Climaxi vzw

Socioeconomic sustainability, labels and fish guides

12:10-13:00 Questions and summary

Greet Riebels

Moderator - communication manager, Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO)


Pintafish is at a transition point, and, considering their policy in the short chain philosophy, they want to respond even more strongly to the demands of the conscious customer. The company strives to make the entire process of the fishing industry chain – from the nets to the plate – as sustainable as possible, supported by scientific knowledge. Pintafish wants to increase the profitability, fishability and involvement of every player in this chain, and today they will explain their philosophy of ethical and sustainable entrepreneurship.


Wout Versteden


Welcome, participants. Pintafish is happy to see such a large audience today. The participants are people from various corners of the country (Antwerpen, Hasselt, Nieuwpoort, the coast, the Netherlands, etc.). The speakers this morning are people who look at the sustainability of the Belgian fishing industry with various perspectives. They all have a passion for fish.


Kris Vandecasteele

Schepen Visserij, City of Nieuwpoort Welcome

Warmly welcome all participants to Nieuwpoort, the capital of fresh fish. Pintafish deserves congratulations for its persistence in implementing a new, more innovative way of selling fresh fish.


Wim Versteden


For Pintafish ( this is an important moment. We have not taken an easy road, but we are happy to see a large audience today, of people who want to work with us. After all, we represent a policy carried by the people.

In 1985 Veeakker ( was founded as a small-scale farm. In the late 1980s we were presented with the choice of either scaling up, or to resolutely change our course. At that time many little companies sprung up that had different philosophies of classic production methods (such as Hefboom, Triodos Bank, etc.). With Veeakker we then applied to the short chain. Trade and commercialisation are important for any company, regardless of what philosophy you adhere to. So at first we focused on establishing clients and logistics.

When I read an article about the situation of the sea and the (negative) impact of the fishing industry, I was appalled. I wanted to do something about this and develop an alternative. After all, Veeakker has an expressive client base which thinks actively. Why not offer them sustainable fish? In our search for which fish is sustainable and which is not, we came upon the De Noordzee Foundation, who advised us on the desired species, fishing methods, fishing areas and seasons. We tried to find Belgian dealers who could deliver these kinds of fish, but in vain. In the end, we had to import from the Netherlands. These fish came from all over the world, which directly opposed our idea of the short chain…

We prefer to work with networks, both on the side of the customer and on the side of the supplier. Late in 2011 the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO - brought us into contact with a number of Belgian fishermen who were interested in the short chain story. In March of 2012 we founded Pintafish, specifically for the fishing trade. Over time, however, we got stuck. So we looked for an alternative approach and new initiatives (such as through Voedselteams vzw - As Pintafish, we are still too small to make a substantial change. That is why we are thrilled that several mass catering companies have shown an interest, so that our volume increases.

Our meetings with fishermen showed that they catch many species that are not ordered (enough) by customers. We want to make sure that the amounts that are being caught and that are not interesting to customers can still be sold effectively (to counter waste) and to make sure that those amounts not necessarily end up in cat feed.

We purchase anything fishermen catch from Danny Huyghebaert en Zonen. High quality is guaranteed. But we also create a buffer between supply and sales: the freezing room. That allows us to direct the supply from the sea according to customer demand and to organise distribution. Our solution to increased sustainability: knowledge, technology and a good organisation (including a data bank and IT).

Question (Anton Gazenbeek - European Committee DG MARE): How do you teach customers to eat fish they’re not familiar with? That’s what keeps me busy, especially concerning the new upcoming law that prohibits fishermen from throwing the fish they caught back in the water (for commercial and quoted species). Answer: Using seasonal packages that offer three relatively unknown kinds of fish. These are nice packages and there is a lot of interest for them. The customer agrees to the diversity and the quality. They lead to a good fee for fishermen and a lower price for the customer.


Danny Huyghebaert

manager at Huyghebaert & Zoon

I used to be a fisherman myself, but circumstances caused me to switch to processing. As a fish purchaser and processor, there is nothing easier than making fish packages where the purchaser has not specified any preferences. I just select the best quality from the offer at auctions at that moment. I choose from anything the fishermen bring, including “new, unknown” kinds. This also leads to a better fee for the fishermen.

Initiatives such as NorthSeaChefs have achieved the introduction of new fish species to chefs who ask for X kg of fish (regardless which kind) and Y kg of other fish. We have by now introduced more than 48 types of fish to these chefs, so plenty of opportunities for local supply! With Pintafish we also introduce these new kinds of fish to the customer.

Promotion of initiatives like those of VLAM (fish of the month, fish of the year) only have a temporary effect on the price. Fishermen would prefer to have a stable price for the whole year.

The Belgian fishing industry is small: there are fewer than 70 ships that regularly set out to fish. It is specialised in bottom trawling, which is a type of fishing that is being criticised. Something really has to change, and over the past 10 years a lot has been done to reduce the impact of these machines (fuel saving, more selective, reduction of seafloor impact). For example, we now have econometers and cruise control; the trawl weighs less (fewer chains and a hydrodynamic wing), the shoes have wheels, the large gaps in the nets ensure that trawling is more ergonomic... In addition to these adjustments to the traditional beam trawl, other techniques were also introduced to the Belgian fishing industry (in addition to those that were already in use):

· Shrimp fishing: beam trawl with fine mesh, but now also with a hydrodynamic wing and ecoroll. Sea flap for increased selectivity;

· Outrigger fishing: old technique reintroduced to beam trawl fishers; heavy plates (500-700 kg) on the seafloor keep the net open, almost no chain. Mainly soles, rays, whiting. Only in summer.

· Twin rigs: 2 to 8 smaller rigging nets linked together.

· Fly shooting: semi-passive, net is deposited. Ropes dance when hauling in and send the fish into the net. Disadvantage: many small fish in nets;

· Drift netting: very good quality, but much expertise is required of the fisherman;

· Traps and pots: passive fishing, e.g. for cuttlefish at the shore;

· Shell fishing: with dredging (heavy fishing), fish yield does not enter Belgian market;


Arne Kinds

Fishery biologist, Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO)

In general, people talk too much in general terms about sustainability and sustainable fish, without nuance. Let’s look at the definition of sustainability. The definition of the UN Brundtland commission from 1987 is, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability has three pillars:

- Ecological pillar (size of files, fishing methods and impact on ecosystems);

- Social pillar (involvement of the entire community/society in the fishing industry and product sales);

- Economic (validity of companies).

Sustainability is often schematised as 3 circles that partly overlap, in which sustainability is the connecting factor between the circles. But I prefer to see sustainability as 3 circles that include each other. The outer circle – the ecological – indicates the strength of the ecosystem, in which we can live and develop a fishing industry (socioeconomic aspects). We have to make choices and take social responsibility.

Different market interpretations of sustainability often cover only 1 of the pillars. Often the term is used wrong, or even intentionally misused. People use scientific argumentation, but without transparency. Be aware that even initiatives like the Viswijzer and the MSC label only include ecological sustainability. These initiatives are used mainly to reduce the pressure on vulnerable species in the ecosystem. With sustainability, the pillars should not be next to each other. All too often people want to make the fishing industry more sustainable without involving the fishermen themselves. There are labels, but they can cause confusion among customers and they often only reach the upper segment of customers.

In 1997 the MSC label was founded, with a transparent methodology and involving fishermen. But certification has high costs for fishermen. Only those shipping companies and organisations with much assets can cover those costs. Smaller fishing companies don’t use the label, even though they use the same methods in the same area. The label is often not profitable, either, and it does not add value to the wares.

The Belgian fishing industry (mostly fuel-intensive trawlers) was hit in 2008 by the fuel crisis. Disappointing fish prices landed many fishermen in economic bad weather. They had to stay ashore to make adjustments to their gear in order to reduce fuel consumption and seafloor impact. The fishermen were also pressured by retail and customers: people started using the Viswijzer when buying fish (preferably MSC, fish from far away). The Belgian fishing industry was a sitting duck. More nuance was required.

And another issue was the European Common Fisheries Policy ( A part of this is the “docking requirement or discard ban” that, starting in 2016, requires fishermen to bring ashore all commercial and quoted fish they catch, even those fish that are too small to sell and those for which they do not have a quota anymore.

In 2011 the Belgian fishing industry decided to become more sustainable, and since then it decides via which track, goals and actions (Vistraject) – see later: lecture by Krien Hanssen of Natuurpunt. In the meantime, ILVO has created an instrument to measure and follow up on that transition to sustainability: VALDUVIS (see video:



How does VALDUVIS work? For every fishing trip, sustainability scores are determined for every species caught. Data enter the electronic log that the fisherman completes on board and that is compared to the location, the fishing equipment used, including any adjustments, the target species, the duration of the fishing track... (choices of the fisherman). 14 indicators are calculated (ecological, social and economic), which are displayed in a sustainability star.

VALDUVIS can serve various purposes: (1) every fishing trip can be evaluated for sustainability (fisher, purchaser, customer), (2) the company can evaluate the performance of its ship over the course of a year (education tool for private company policy); (3) within a fleet segment companies can compare their ships (to colleagues or ships that employ other fishing techniques); and (4) the Belgian fishing fleet in its entirety can be evaluated for sustainability. The system could also be made visible in the market, so that customers could make more conscious choices (this is not currently planned).


Krien Hanssen


In 2011 the “Convenant Duurzame Visserij” (Sustainable Fisheries Agreement) was signed by the Belgian fishing industry (Rederscentrale), the government of Flanders, the Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO) and Natuurpunt. Since then they regularly meet to establish goals, actions and timing in the Vistraject (, in which the 7 ways of achieving this are described. In 2015 the second Agreement was signed (with an extra partner, the Province of West-Flanders) to realise the 7 goals in 60 concrete actions. In the following, Krien will highlight several points that are important to Natuurpunt:

- More fish within safe boundaries:

o Looking for a workable system to protect the known spawning grounds in the Belgian part of the North Sea and other places.

- Fisheries with a minimum impact on the marine environment:

o Striving for adjustments of fishing equipment to reduce seafloor disturbance. More nuanced now. The impact of beam trawls is not the same everywhere. It is better to not use fishing techniques that disturb the seafloor in the most biodiverse areas of the North Sea. Result: an impact assessment of all fishing techniques in various areas.

o Selectivity. The beam trawl is not selective, it is mixed fishery. This generates a lot of options for customers, but the yield also includes endangered species. We want to stimulate a species-specific approach for sharks and rays by offering identification instruments and establishing policy proposals (‐en‐roggen).

- Economically viable fishery: looking for new energy applications in the fishing industry.

- Small-scale and shore fishing: there are more than 600 recreation fishing ships in Belgium (see:, in addition to 70 professionals. The policy surrounding this should be improved.

- Socially responsible fishing. The agreement has removed the mistrust between the players: we now speak with each other.

- The new fisherman as “guardian of the sea” with a good, versatile education. For example, trainee fishermen learn about the vulnerability of sharks and rays.


Critics of the agreement and the Vistraject say that it is all hot air and little actual action (after 6 months not much has been made concrete). We’re moving ahead slowly, but definitely steadily. We have already established the Task Force, as well as 4 work groups that are open to anyone who likes to join. There is also a soundboard group. Krien concludes with a wise Kenyan proverb: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to get far, you go together.”


Kelle Moreau

Fishery biologist, Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO)

Flemish fish: what is the size of the fleet and yield, which species, caught where and what is the status of the fish? Who keeps track of the evolution of the status of the fish? Kelle mainly discusses one of the ecological factors of sustainability: status of the fish stocks.

For an overview of the Flemish fishing industry, supply and value in 2014, see:

The Flemish supply amounts to 20 000 - 25 000 tons per year. Although the fleet has been greatly reduced, no significant reduction in the total supply can be observed.

The species brought in by the Belgians are mainly demersal, or seafloor, fish (26 species), which are caught using bottom trawling techniques. The supply also contains a few pelagic species, which are fish living in the water column, and a few shellfish (including mainly grey shrimp), as well as a few molluscs (mainly king scallops and cuttlefish). Plaice is the most abundant fish caught, while sole generates the most income.

The supply also varies according to the season, from species to species and from fishing area to fishing area. For example, cod and plaice are typically caught in autumn, while sole is distributed more evenly throughout the year and other species have two peaks per year.


Where do the Belgian fishermen go fishing, in which fishing areas? In the central and southern North Sea, the Irish Sea (small part), the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, the Bay of Biscay (only in summer).

It is good to know that the sustainability status is not determined on the level of the fish for its entire range, but that it is examined for a certain area (fishing stock). The nuance on the level of stock is important. The status of the fishing stock in a certain zone is a response to the governing environmental factors and a response to human impact (including fishery).

Note that the geographical demarcation is different for the different stocks of every fish.

The assessment of the status of the fish stocks is mainly carried out for species and stocks that are economically important. For that, we need long-term data on the reproductive biomass (the share that can reproduce) and on fishery death (fishing pressure). We also need to set a reference point on what we consider a “healthy situation”. If insufficient data is available, we can only observe trends in yield and supply.

Considering that both environmental factors and fishing pressure can change every year, the sustainability assessment of a stock can vary per year. So it is not useful to draw up long-term guides. They only have a short shelf life.

ILVO and VLIZ have drawn up maps for most species that are caught by the Belgian fishing industry. See

They show on the one hand from which zones certain species are mainly gathered (in %, average of supply in 2011, 2012 and 2013) and on the other hand how scientists assessed the status of the various stocks of this species (based on ICES assessments from 2014; recently the ICES assessments of 2015 were published and the maps will have to be updated).


Filip De Bodt

Climaxi vzw

I’m the producer of two documentaries on the fishing industry (Fish & Run I and II), where we worked from the bottom up without a scenario and without projected results. We talk to everyone and capture real reactions. Recently the edition of the Visserijblad was also republished. I want to say a few things about what I heard today and propose a few views that Climaxi vzw strongly supports.

Fishing techniques: Climaxi vzw has been on many fishing vehicles. We have seen the beam trawl at work and we have talked with a lot with fishermen and scientists. We can conclude that today the limit of improving on the beam trawl has been reached. There is no way anymore to make the beam trawl more ecological. It is true that the beam trawl disturbs the seafloor. Climaxi does not support or oppose the beam trawl, but we support more area organisation at sea. Like a farmer does not plough national parks, the beam trawl should not be allowed in certain zones. Be clear!

Food kilometres. We want food kilometres to feature more prominently in the sustainability assessment (maybe in VALDUVIS?). Climaxi supports nearness of food. And we don’t support MSC Pangasius from Vietnam labelled as sustainable fish in Belgian supermarkets. Is that really sustainable? We should also recheck the quota and take brave decisions concerning these. Why move to the Bay of Bascay to organise a limited campaign with heavy food kilometres? Can’t we find a quota for fish closer to home?

In the Vistraject we argue for more social responsibility when fishing. But is the Rederscentrale actually the right organisation to achieve this as a sector organisation? Shore fishing, for example, is practically dead, and who represents them? Also when it comes to fair prices, e.g. the fish auction is a free market system that only pays 40 cents per kilo for some fish, while that same fish is sold for 10-16 euros per kilo in supermarkets inland. Together with people from the fishing industry, we should stand up for better prices in the fishing industry. Pintafish complements the auction system with an added price. Currently fish sales is monopolised by 1 big fish auction house. Direct sales are impossible, unless individual fishermen’s wives who sell their husbands’ fish from their boat achieve a single short chain. The fisherman mainly wants to see good prices.

In the fish guides and by the MSC label, electrical fishing methods are treated as an ecological alternative. However, the frame is lighter, and new areas can be tapped into that were previously unavailable. These methods also apply electric loads that are too high, so that the fish suffer from burns and welts. Climaxi believes it is sad that science is not clearer about this. After all, they cannot (yet) confirm that electric pulses are the cause of the welts.

The starting price for an MSC label is 25,000 euros and only companies with extensive assets can afford this. 75% of MSC fish is caught by major companies, where only few of the company’s ships actually fish for MSC while the other ships fish normally. According to Climaxi, then, MSC is a deception to the public and a form of greenwashing. A label is not a good way to organise things.

Climaxi is looking for opportunities to make a third Fish & Run film and we would like to work on the discard ban that enters into force next year and which the Belgian fishing industry collectively violates.

Wim Versteden


Before the discussion starts, Wim wants to conclude the lectures. We have learned that making the fishing industry and the fish supply more sustainable is something really complex. Pintafish wants to adjust its operations and supply, and switch to the track towards sustainability. We want to control this complexity. I think it can be done with the application of technology and proper communication (with scientists, fishermen, other players). We have learned that assessments evolve quickly and that labels and guides are outdated too fast. We understand that customers can’t keep up with everything. That’s why they have to trust the confidence of the entrepreneur. Pintafish has a long way to go. There may be critics of the road we have already travelled, but for us this is a crossroads to strive towards actual change. It will not be simple and it will take quite some time. We hope you understand.



Question (Johan van de Steene – Flanders Fish Auction): Why is the fish of Pintafish more sustainable than fish offered via the usual channels of the fish auction? The Flanders Fish Auction adheres to the rules and legal fish is still sustainable. How do you determine what sustainable is? Can you prove that you are achieving even more sustainability in your sales.

Answer (Wim Versteden): Our form of entrepreneurship is different from classic entrepreneurs. We do not just sell the fish that people want to buy, that is in high demand, even if it is not sustainable. In any case, we don’t sell codfish, tuna…

(Danny Huyghebaert): Fish may be caught using sustainable techniques within the allowable quota (so you’re right, it’s not illegal), but it may be that the stocks are off. For example, codfish is in a long-term recovery plan in the North Sea. Currently the stocks are still quite bad. That’s why we at Pintafish do not trade in codfish.

Reaction (from the room): But Danny as a seller does sell codfish to other customers when they ask for it. (this is confirmed by Danny with the reaction that the deal with Pintafish is not yet sufficient to support his company). Reaction (Retailer of Biological Food – Brussels): As a retailer you should make decisions and keep your integrity.

Continuation of answer (Wim Versteden): Another element in which we differ concerning sustainability is the distribution of frozen fish, which is what makes Pintafish unique. We prevent waste. Nothing is thrown away; we freeze it.


Question (from the room): Can’t we turn around the current market economy and import more fair trade?

Answer (Wim Versteden): What’s a fair price for the fisherman? That’s difficult to determine. We are no slick salesmen, so we reach price agreements to which everyone can agree (we, the fishermen and the customers). We want the fisherman to be present right up to the end point of the process, to also carry responsibility up to the customer (for quality and price). For this agreement, he should also work hygienically.


Reaction (Danny Huyghebaert): As a fisherman – I was not a company – I was able to get by well. Fishermen get a percentage of the sales. Fishing companies are the ones who have to cover the costs. A fisherman has a short-term vision from trip to trip: the company is the one with the long-term vision.


Question (from the room): Can’t you do something about the sustainability star so that the customer can also use it? Can’t you get a quick score out of it, or make it visible at the auction? Answer (Arne Kinds): It should cover sustainable development, which is, as said before, a complex issue with many factors. You can’t just say that something’s sustainable or not.

Reaction (Filip De Bodt): So we’re working with colours again. We underestimate the customer. But why don’t we go back to trusting competent retailers? And they can use very simple criteria: what, where, how, was it paid fairly, is the fish big enough (concerning reproduction)? Don’t sell small fish, because I often see retailers sell fish that’s too small.


Question (from the room): So we can’t purchase directly from fishermen? They do so in the Netherlands, so why not here?

Answer (Wim Versteden): Often the fishermen themselves prefer to go to the auction house.

Reaction (from the room): But in your brochure you say that you purchase directly from sustainable fishermen. So that’s wrong, then. Brochure and website aren’t really correct.

Some of the purchases occur directly.

The percentage of wasted fish in the fishing period is high (because the minimum price is not achieved). 420 tons in 2010, and 178 in 2014. Pintafish can fight this waste.

(Danny Huyghebaert): For Pintafish we will also be looking for good fish according to the fish calendar. To us, quality is very important. For example, we see that the quality of plaice is currently dropping severely, even though the fish calendar tells us that there should be another 2 weeks of plaice season. But Pintafish doesn’t accept thin plaice.

(Wim Vertsteden): We work exclusively with freezers, but that’s difficult to sell. Customers generally prefer fresh fish.


Question (from the room): What is the position of Pintafish within the agreement?

Answer (Wim Versteden): I have recently become aware of it being a representation of a series of meetings in which people spare each other.

Reaction (Krien Hanssen): The report itself was drawn up with a small group of people, but the way in which we will now continue is very broad. It is our intention to have many interested people join and cooperate.

Reaction (Filip De Bodt): I don’t have time to sit down in all those seminars. With our organisation we want to work towards customers in order to exert pressure on the level of the EU.

Reaction (from the room): Do you have contacts with the EU initiative of INSEPARABLE?

Filip De Bodt (Climaxi): There are a lot of people today, but no fishermen! Ask for their vision as well!

Answer (Wim Versteden): They were invited. We even had planned a time period in the afternoon to talk with them personally and to see if they would be interested in supplying to Pintafish.

Reaction (Arne Kinds): ILVO also invited them to come. They always say that they are interested, but generally only few fishermen and fishing companies turn up to these kinds of events. Not just the Redercentrale (which only consists of fishing companies), but also fishermen themselves have a say. There should be a better discussion and more participation of all layers of the sector.


Question (Lancelot Blondeel): Sustainability assessments often have a purely ecological viewpoint. Today we also heard that socioeconomic factors should play a role. But in this discussion it is mainly the ecological function that’s being addressed. So what is the focus of Pintafish? Is it and/and or is it or.

Answer (Wim Vertsteden): Most importantly Pintafish represents a short chain, a fair price for the fisherman and using the surplus. We have no problem with including other issues as points of attention. We are a company in transition. The process of sustainability has been weaved into the short chain.


Final brief reactions and comments:

- Teach children in schools to recognise fish and explain to them the situation and sustainability of fish.