By Nicholas Janzen
HORRIFYING recent reports of rock anglers falling into the ocean – and to their death – highlight the lack of caution some people are taking when fishing from the stones, according to the Australian National Sportfishing Association (ANSA).
In the first two weeks of May, seven people lost their lives while rock fishing in NSW – almost the annual average. A major incident – one ANSA believes is the worst rock-fishing group tragedy in Australian history – occurred at Catherine Hill Bay, just south of Newcastle, on Mother’s Day. Five people – two mothers, two fathers and a son – lost their lives as “tsunami-like” waves peppered the flat rock they were fishing from. A week before, a Hornsby man died fishing rocks nearby. And on May 15, a man is believed to have lost his life while rock fishing off North Bondi in Sydney, in “atrocious” conditions. His belongings were found at the water line, but his body has not been recovered.
All victims were of Asian background.
ANSA President Stan Konstantaras pleaded with the public to take all precautions before considering going rock fishing – and communicate the message to other anglers who mightn’t necessarily be of English-speaking heritage.
ANSA, staffed by volunteers, is responsible for the erection of multi-language safety signs, as well as the implementation of Angel Rings life buoys, at popular rock platforms.
“The main point is, if it’s too rough go home,” Konstantaras said.
“Check the weather, always tell someone of your plans, never fish alone, find a safer spot if conditions are bad, and wear a lifejacket, especially at night.”
“It’s very important to keep an eye on your fellow anglers who fish the rocks and if you see someone doing the wrong thing take the time to go over and tell them in a polite way how to go about things the right and safe way. Ignoring them just because they don’t have a good grasp of the English language is not good form from experienced rock anglers.”
However, Malcolm Poole, Chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW, does not support recent calls from many people including influential fishing identity Rex Hunt for the compulsory use of lifejackets by rock fishers. Education, not reform, is the answer.
“The call for mandatory [wearing of] lifejackets for rock fishers… raises more questions that need strategies and answers,” Poole said.
“Who will fund, manage and resource each proposed strategy? It's not only recreational fishers who have required rescuing or have lost their lives on coastal rock platforms.
“Lifejackets do save lives, the same as seatbelts have reduced vehicle fatalities. [However] education and awareness campaigns along with practical experience will also play their part in reducing any future fatalities.
“We all need to use all our senses and ask ourselves and fishing friends questions, seeking rational answers that lead to appropriate solutions, decisions and action.”
Konstantaras believes some anglers are not receiving vital safety information because they purchase tackle from large chains, as opposed to local fishing stores.
“A lot of people now are circumventing the tackle shops which were historically a good source of information,” Konstantaras said.
“The tackle-shop owners are very aware of local conditions and would always have a cautionary word for anglers who would frequent them. This is a big problem for the industry and us as anglers pushing the fishing safety barrow.”
STAY SAFE ON THE STONES
- Know the zone. Check the latest weather reports for your area and if it’s slightly dangerous, stay at home.
- Observe conditions. On arrival, watch your potential fishing area for 20 minutes and note the swell and how the waves react. Is your potential patch really safe? If the rocks are wet, that’s a definite ‘no’.
- Bring your mate. You’re in trouble if you get thrown in the water without help. A friend tagging along can alert authorities and assist you, in the event of an emergency.
- Take care. Bring a rope with something that floats tied to the end. Take your mobile phone too, leaving it in a safe, dry place you and/or your friend could access.
- Appropriate clothing. Wear light, bright and easily removable clothing that won’t weigh you down should you go in the water. If it’s heavy or will get heavy if wet, leave it at home.
- Footwear. Don’t wear cumbersome or slippery shoes. Like clothing, if it’s heavy, forget about it. Think light non-slip shoes, possibly with metal cleats. Avoid gumboots like the plague – they’ll fill with water and drag you under, if you go for a swim.
- Wear a lifejacket/PFD. They’re not expensive, and they could very well save your life. Don’t put yourself at risk without one.
- If in doubt, get out. The swell’s rising but the bite’s on. What to do? Remember – please remember – no fish is ever worth your life. Don’t become a statistic.