Lifejacket update: Minister responds to rock fishos’ concerns

Image: Scott Thomas

NSW Minister for Emergency Services David Elliott has responded to concerns after last weekend’s announcement to mandate lifejackets for rock fishers in high risk areas.

The announcement sparked a heated debate on social media over the weekend with many fearing it raised more questions than it answered.

The Minister told Fishing World that wearing a lifejacket while rock fishing is safer than not wearing one.

“Nearly all persons who have died while rock-fishing were not wearing lifejackets. A lifejacket will help a person stay buoyant and get out of the water, or to stay buoyant until they can be rescued – this is particularly important in relation to persons who cannot swim, or who are not strong swimmers,” Elliott said.

“As Surf Life Saving Australia reported in their ‘National Coastal Safety Report 2014′, the majority of coastal drowning deaths in NSW in 2013-14 occurred when a person was rock fishing. They also found that based on consideration of participation and fatality data, rock fishing is 3.1 times riskier than swimming,” he said.

Rock fishers have raised concerns about the ability to swim and dive under waves while wearing a lifejacket, but the minister has also dismissed these concerns.

“A number of lifejackets do not necessarily prevent diving under waves. A strong swimmer may want to choose a lifejacket (for example, a level 50S) that still permits them freedom of movement to dive under waves,” he said

“There are a number of Australian Standard lifejackets that are suitable for rock fishing. Anglers should find one that is comfortable and meets the standard. We expect that the industry will also move toward developing rock fishing specific lifejackets now that the Government is making lifejackets compulsory at high-risk locations.”

Fisho’s environmental editor and experienced rock fisho, John Newbery, said the announcement was inevitable and has been coming for some time, but wasn’t sure whether the decision was entirely the correct move.

“Yes it will probably save lives in the long run but I think more people will get washed in. I think lifejackets give people false confidence and that will probably see more people ending up in the water,” Newbery said.

Newbery has held advisory positions on various rock fishing safety panels over the years and believes there were others factors worth exploring.

“If you choose to legislate, then the first thing I would legislate for is the correct footwear, and you should also consider a person’s swimming ability. Also, perhaps most important, is for the fisherman to have alternative spots to fish when a certain ledge is too dangerous, to never fish alone and to always carry a mobile phone,” he said.

These concerns, which many fishermen echo, appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the legislation is due to be introduced into NSW parliament later this year after a working group determines the final makeup of the law.

The members of the working group include Surf Life Saving Australia, Police, Department of Primary Industries and the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW. They will consider a range of factors including fatalities and near drownings, usage and accessibility in determining the high risk locations.

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