The End of an Era: Geraardsbergen Faces Ban on Drinking Live Fish Tradition

Geraardsbergen. In Geraardsbergen, notables may drink live fish for the last time on Sunday. The new Flemish animal welfare code prohibits this time-honored tradition. With this codex, Minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) emphasizes animal welfare. Does the Pretzel Throw depend on whether or not the fish drink?

The highlight of the fair week is in full swing. The Omloop van het Nieuwsblad passed through the center of the Oudenberg city on Saturday, February 24, and then climbed the legendary Wall. Half of Geraardsbergen stood along the course, with dense crowds on the Muur and the Kapelberg. Does fish drinking undermine the well-being of the animals or should this give way to age-old tradition and folklore?

The suffering of the fish
Tomorrow the historic procession will pass through Geraardsbergen, followed by the pretzel throw and Tonnekensbrand. Both highlights belong to the Flemish intangible heritage and are recognized by UNESCO. Bread, fish, wine and fire are part of the festival to ward off winter and herald spring. The celebration ends on Monday with the first annual market of the year, the Eerste Toog.

The highlight of the festivities is the pretzel toss, Tonnekens brand, but above all the drinking of the fish by the mayor, aldermen and municipal council members. There is a real chance that this old use will be removed next year.

Last week, a draft decree was approved that – under the heading of animal welfare – bans such rituals, because they are used for the entertainment of the public. Do the animals suffer from this ritual? Presumably not. The fish are dropped into a cup of wine. Then the notables of the city pour the wine with the fish down their throats. The fish are virtually marinated and numbed by the alcohol. The chance that they will realize what happened is virtually nil. Also because their brains are the size of a pinhead.

No longer out of habit or tradition
Drinking about thirty fish will not upset the ecological balance. The impact is therefore very small, actually negligible. That does not alter the fact that things are not going well for the animal rights movements in principle. GAIA has been fighting against fish drinking for thirty years. Finally with results. The new Flemish codex states that animals may only be killed out of necessity and no longer out of habit or tradition.

Drinking fish is bread and games for the people of Geraardsbergen. That is not possible. The fish are therefore violated in their fundamental rights. If they were part of a Sunday afternoon lunch that wouldn’t be a problem, but consuming fish in front of a cheering crowd on the flanks of the Oudenberg under the name of culture and tradition is a few bridges too far.

Mayor Ann Panis hopes to convince a number of Flemish parliamentarians to provide an exception for fish drinking in Geraardsbergen in the new Flemish Codex. The rights and well-being of the fish must therefore make way for the tradition of the city’s notables.

In any case, drinking fish remains a lot friendlier than cock-beating, goose-riding, force-feeding, battery cages or slaughter without stunning. But for Ben Weyts it is clear: ‘You can just as well organize those parties without animal suffering.’

In short. The city’s notables like to dress up in medieval or nineteenth-century costumes, but their mindset and moral compass may well be twenty-first century.

Julien Borremans

2024-02-25 06:30:02
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