The Visserij: The Skills & Art of Fishing Reinvented & Practiced in Curaçao

Gijs Boer proudly shows off a freshly caught yellowfin tuna. Photo by Els Kroon
Gijs Boer proudly shows off a freshly caught yellowfin tuna. Photo by Els Kroon

‘Great food! If you like fish you really have to go there! Don’t expect expensive dishes, only the best fish with the greatest taste. Super clean, open kitchen, that’s the concept. They show you everything they do, no secrets, nothing to hide, just like that!’

This is just one of the reviews on the Facebook page of the new multipurpose fishery project, including a seafood restaurant and a learning institute, in Curaçao set up by Gijs Boer and his business partner Ron van der Meulen.

Boer is no stranger to the island. The former CEO and manager of Curaçao Marine was looking for a new challenge and followed his heart.

“The idea of creating the Visserij came to mind more than ten years ago when I was still in full action at the boat yard,” says Boer one week after the official opening of the project.

The launch at the end of May attracted many supporters and prominent visitors, among them three government ministers and representatives of several tourism organizations and science centers, stressing the importance of the project.

The Visserij is not only a restaurant. The new concept also includes a learning center for youths interested in becoming professional fishermen, a multifunctional dock for fishing boats, and an innovation center.

Location, location, location … Photo by Els Kroon
Location, location, location … Photo by Els Kroon

“It’s a source of inspiration to me” Boer says. “It has everything to do with the location. In order to properly prepare and process the freshly caught fish you need clean sea water. When sea fish comes into contact with fresh water the flesh tends to turn white and soft and the taste fades.”

Ice from a sponsored saltwater ice maker – the first on the island – helps keep the catch fresh when it is brought onboard the boat. 

“Finding the location was priority number one because it had to be a spot close to the sea. A dock was necessary for the fishing boats to land their fish on a daily basis, day and night,” says Boer. “We count ourselves lucky with this setting, where everything is open, so guests can enjoy the view, see the fish coming in, see it processed and cleaned with the best quality sea water, and cut in portions before making a choice for lunch or dinner at Window Number One. It’s never the same fish, always the catch of the day. Guests pay per weight and then see how the fish immediately gets prepared in the open kitchen. Employees at Window Number Two provide the drinks. To keep the prices low the Visserij has no waiters on the dock.”

Boer adds, “We try to catch yellowfin tuna and blackfin tuna every day because in our short existence we have created a great number of tuna lovers on the island. Many ask for the recipe and I’ll reveal a glimpse of it. First of all we dip it (the fish) in a mix of sesame oil and peanut oil and then cover it with roasted sesame seeds before we sear it just briefly on a hot plate.” 

De Visserij 1, docked in front of the restaurant. Photo by Els Kroon
De Visserij 1, docked in front of the restaurant. Photo by Els Kroon

Guests at the opening ceremony were given a taste of this excellent dish. Among them Jeanine Cozijns-Isenia, a civil servant and teacher appointed by the government, who wrote the curriculum for the pilot project, which will be part of a separate foundation. Over the next couple of years several groups of young people will be initiated into the skills and secrets of sea fishing and obtain their captain and VHF radio licenses. The courses also introduce pelagic (offshore) fishing and shorter artisanal fishing trips inshore. Artisanal fishing is less wasteful and less stressful on fish populations than modern largescale commercial fishing practices. The founders say interest in the scheme is overwhelming.

“In preparation for the courses we held a meeting with the representatives of the local fishing co-operatives. All were excited about the idea. If the pilot project succeeds, in one or two years we can take stock and see if we can start the same courses at other locations on the west side of the island,” says Boer. “We can count on the financial support of business sponsors and private funds and a close co-operation with the local fishermen. The people who got in touch with the project felt immediately involved and enthusiastic. The Carmabi Institute (Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity) offers the classrooms and we offer the boats, both nonprofit. Furthermore the proceeds from the restaurant facilitate the courses, a perfect symbiosis.” 

One of the first student, Andy Leuteria, receives his certificate in the presence of three government ministers, a teacher and Visserij management during the opening ceremony. Photo by Els Kroon
One of the first student, Andy Leuteria, receives his certificate in the presence of three government ministers, a teacher and Visserij management during the opening ceremony. Photo by Els Kroon

Boer noted the importance of teaming up with Carmabi in order to make the students aware of the importance of sea husbandry and conservation.

“The course is about 70 percent practical, so most of the time will be spent here and at sea. We don’t have fixed hours. Whenever there are fish, students have to be here, sometimes in the middle of the night. Further into the course they will go out in the boats and get used to the timetable of a professional fisherman. Fishing must be in your blood and that’s why we offer alternatives. With the same basic course students can become involved in commercial fishing in different ways. One way or the other, it’s a win-win.”

The Visserij is located at Piscadera Bay. For more information visit the Facebook page of De Visserij Piscadera. 

 

Els Kroon is an award winning freelance photojournalist and former teacher. She lives and works in Curaçao and Kissimmee, Florida.