Rock fishermen not heeding warnings

Despite ongoing warnings and safety campaigns, rock fishermen around Australia are still being swept to their deaths on a regular basis. Statistics show more than 200 rock anglers in NSW have been killed in the last 40 years, including at least 50 in the past four years alone.

The NSW State Government’s Safe-Waters website lists rock fishing as the most dangerous sport in Australia. Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter crew chief Tony Wood agrees, saying the statistics are “startling”.
In the most recent rock fishing related fatalities two fishermen, aged 29 and 58, were swept to their deaths off rocks at North Bondi’s Ben Buckler.

Those anglers deemed to be putting themselves at risk may soon face being chased away from the water’s edge by a helicopter emitting warnings via loudspeaker and siren.
In conjunction with the University of NSW, fishing and lifesaving groups plan to establish a public alert that can be broadcast when conditions make rock fishing treacherous. Multi-lingual warning signs will go up at popular sites, as research showed 40 per cent of fatalities were people from China, South Korea and Vietnam.

Tony Wood said the helicopter could buzz the cliffs between the Royal National Park and Pittwater urging fishermen to leave in high seas. Putting the helicopter in the air costs $3850 an hour, with search and rescue missions plus medical care involving rock fishermen running into millions of dollars each year.

Although many popular rock fishing spots along the NSW coast boast “angel rings” – flotation devices that can be thrown to anglers – there are none at North Bondi or anywhere in the Waverley Council area. Australian National Sportfishing Association safety officer Stan Konstantaras, who co-ordinates the volunteer-run angel ring project, said the devices had rescued anglers at Avoca and Port Kembla this year.
Putting rings at North Bondi had been looked at, he said, but access was dangerous and Waverley was not as supportive as other councils.

Rings or not, Konstantaras said the men who died at North Bondi should not have been fishing in such conditions: “If it’s too rough, go home.”
That message will be emphasised in an advertising campaign that will run this year in Asian-language newspapers and on SBS radio.

Fishing groups and governments have spent about $500,000 since 1994 installing angel rings and running safety education campaigns.

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