This page provides information about the village of Urk.
Urk is a former island on the border of the IJsselmeer in the province of Flevoland. Its written history dates back to the year 966. At that time Urk was an island in the Zuiderzee, the open inner sea in the center of the Low Countries. The main livelyhood of the population was, and still is, fishery. In the course of history storms reduced the size of the island to eighty hactares, about 198 acres.
In 1932 the Zuiderzee was closed by the Afsluitdijk, turning the sea into a large lake named IJsselmeer. As a result the seawater became freshwater. In 1939 Urk ceased to be an island when the dam between Lemmer and Urk was completed. This dam was part of the construction of a new polder which was reclaimed in 1942. Urk retained its harbour and is situated at the southwestern tip of this Noordoostpolder. In 1948 its first roadlink with the old land was established. While still an island the Urker population grew slowly, from 1200 in 1850 to 4202 in 1940. After World War II the population grew rapidly and in October 2003 the 17,000th inhabitant was born. Half the population is younger than 26, twice the average figure for The Netherlands. Overall the village is devoutly Calvinistic and religion more or less dictates Sundays. Most people attend church twice and refrain from any work whatsoever.
Before the war the people of Urk led a meagre existence. Fishcatches were erratic from year to year and the islanders lived in isolation with poor hygiene and health conditions. Combined with the dangers of the sea this etched the character of the population. The toll of fishing is illustrated by the Vissersmonument. It remembers the 343 fishermen who died at sea since 1865. The isolation is illustrated by the sculpture of the IJsvlet with crew. It shows an iceboat which was used to get vital supplies during severe winters when the sea was frozen over.
After the war prosperity came to Urk. Living conditions improved greatly due to the public services the polder offered. The polder also provided space to expand the village. This meant many Urkers, who were forced to live elsewhere due to the lack of space on the island, could return home. Another beneficiary was the fishing related industry. Against all expectations Urker fishing didn't wither after the closure of the Zuiderzee. Actually the Urker fishermen were amongst few to pick up the challenge of adapting to the changed circumstances and became very successful at fishing on the North Sea.
Since the trawlers got bigger and bigger it became inefficient and later impossible to sail back to Urk every weekend. The Urker fleet now is one of the largest and most modern of the country consisting of 130 ships with 900 crew. The trawlers moor in Lauwersoog, Harlingen and Den Helder. From there crews and catches travel to Urk by road. In addition there is still an IJsselmeer fleet.
In 1905 Urk was one of the first towns around the Zuiderzee to open a fish auction. In 1962 the first North Sea fish was auctioned in Urk and the market went on to become one of the top three of Europe with a turnover of 109million euro in 2002. The result of this fish trade is a flourishing fish processing industry. About 55 companies employ 1800 people. In 1998 total turnover amounted tomore than 711million euro.
The success of the Urk auction to an extend is due to the religious nature of the population. In the fifties and early sixties of the last century the fleet would leave Urk early on Monday, sail accross the IJsselmeer, pass the Afsluitdijk and fish all week on the North Sea. On Saturday they landed their catches in IJmuiden, a harbour on the North Sea due west of Amsterdam, and returned home. When IJmuiden announced the abolishment of auctioning on Saturday in favour of Friday, this posed a problem for the Urker fishermen. Leaving port on Sunday was not an option nor was loosing one day fishing. Instead they decided to bring the catch to their own auction in Urk. From small beginnings the auction grew into a major operation. The main attractions are a steady supply of good quality and an efficient auction process. To ensure this the auction is in touch with trawlers at sea from all nationalities enticing them to sell their catches in Urk. This extends to organizing transport of the fish, crew change and other matters. On the other end buyers are attracted with ample stocks of good quality graded independently and the latest in electronic auction equipment ensuring swift trading.