Laaxum, a drama just waiting for a happy end

The smallest fishing port of Europe is the sightliest outdoor experience of Friesland


LAAXUM (NL) – Sadness because of the deplorable state of the nearly 100 year old fish auction, the ‘zoutloods’. Joy at seeing one of Friesland’s last inland fishermen. Or when a carefully maintained authentic fishing vessel, coming from the province of Holland, enters the old Zuiderzee port. Also Overwijk’s snack house, built in the style of the Zuiderzee and with a large covered outdoor cafe, will bring some cheer. Simple, functional and pleasantly casual. That’s why you regularly see here notable Dutch men and women. No kidding!

Fish, french-fried chips and sorbets laced with fruit. Nowhere do they taste better than in the port of Laaxum which looks out over the city of Enkhuizen on the other side. The side which in 1345 the Hollanders came to conquer under the command of Count William IV of Friesland. During the Battle of Warns — Laaxum is a hamlet close to the village of Warns — the Frisians made mincemeat of them. The glorious ‘gehaktdag’ (lit. the day when the foe was torn to pieces - as in making mincemeat) was and is 26 September.

The tragedy of Laaxum
Laaxum was known in 1325 as Laxnum and in 1487 named Laexum. In 1718 there were eight houses in the hamlet, and in 1851 two less. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the ‘village’ that could not really be called a ‘village’, had sixteen houses and two farms, good for the housing of some hundred souls. In the 21st century, there are eleven houses and one farm.

Around 1500 Laaxum was already known because of its fishing for flatfish on the Vrouwezand, a still existing shoal in the Zuiderzee (since the construction of the Afsluitdijk (dam with causeway) in 1932, called the IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel)) south of the town of Stavoren. From 1680 there was also fished for eels, a very popular export product. Traders from Workum and Heeg brought many tonnes of eels to London.

The port of Laaxum was constructed in 1902. After the First World War, the fish auction was erected as a temporary building because at that time one already took into account the effects of the closing in of the Zuiderzee, namely the loss of fishing for saltwater fish. The walls were built of cheap erodible sand-lime brick. Lemster fishermen used the smokehouse for a long time for the processing of fresh herring into kippers (smoked herring). The smoked fish was destined for the German market.

The Afsluitdijk in 1932 permanently separated the fast becoming freshwater IJsselmeer from the saltwater Wadden Sea. There remained but little commercial fishing in Laaxum, just as in the other Zuiderzee ports. Also the fish auction, the salt shed or the ‘hang’ (smokehouse), eventually ceased operations. The switch to eel fishery was not economically viable for the Laaxum fishing fleet. The Frisian eel fishermen now have to deal with many legal restrictions intended to again increase the number of live eels to an ecologically preservable level. There appears to be no end to the drama of Laaxum now that also the salt shed has still not been saved from its ruination.