Calls for tightening of rock fishing safety

In the wake of the worst drowning tragedy in NSW in 20 years, there have been calls for a major crackdown on rock fishing safety.

Early this week a group of five anglers were swept into rough seas from a popular rock fishing ledge near Catherine Hill Bay, south of Newcastle. Police recovered the bodies of four of the anglers and found the remaining missing female angler the following day. All the victims originated from Hong Kong and had reportedly fished the location on many occasions. They were aged between 25 and 63 and none were believed to have been strong swimmers.

In the wake of the tragedy, Surf Life Saving Central Coast CEO Chad Griffith said rock fishing was overdue for reform.

“We’re constantly updating our policies and procedures when it comes to beach safety but when it comes to rock fishing nothing has ever changed,” Griffith said in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. Griffith called for the compulsory wearing of life jackets and the installation of further safety measures such as harness lines and spikes.

Stan Konstantaras, the national safety officer for the Australian National Sportsfishing Association (ANSA), has been responsible for installing angel ring life buoys along the NSW coast and at the Flat Rock site, south of Newcastle.

An angel ring was reportedly thrown into the water on Sunday night when one of the group went into the swell, but unfortunately this didn’t prevent a drowning.

“I still can’t fathom two elderly couples down there fishing in the dark,” Konstantaras told the Daily Telegraph.

“It would have been cold, also. That means to me, more clothing. You go in [to the water] with a jacket and a jumper, you’re going to sink like a stone.

“The spot is popular, but treacherous, offering good fishing, deep water, and it’s easily accessible from Sydney,” Konstantaras said.

“It’s a really rough, rocky and sloping platform where the waves come up and gather momentum on the rocks and are just unforgiving.”

While a survivor of a rock fishing accident last year has been quoted today as saying NSW recreational fishing licences should only be given to anglers who can prove they own a life jacket, experienced rock anglers aren’t convinced such a move would solve the problem.

Fisho’s environment editor and lifelong rock fisherman, John Newbery said to prevent further drownings some basic safety messages have to be reiterated.

Newbery oulined some of these safety procedures:

  • If there are waves coming over more than knee deep on a rock platform don’t fish there that day – even if it was fine for the last four or five trips.
  • if you can’t swim in the surf…not just still water….. don’t rock fish at all.
  • don’t ever go on the ocean rocks without specialised non-slip footwear;
  • don’t overdress in heavy clothing, even in mid-winter;
  • don’t ever turn your back on the water
  • take advice from local fishos if they give a you a well-intentioned warning about dangerous conditions.

On the issue of wearing personal flotation devices Newbery says, “They can give a false sense of security and in the past I have not advocated mandatory use. But in the face of this and other deaths in the past year I think the government will act, as it has with safety gear for boaties.”

Newbery urges all rock anglers to get a copy of the free multi-language NSW Fisheries rock fishing safety DVD. A copy of a multi-language safety brochure can be downloaded here.

For more information on rock fishing safety click here.

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