by Jeni Bone
The numbers don’t lie. A groundbreaking multilingual study by Surf Life Saving Australia has found 21 per cent of rock fishermen go fishing alone, 15 per cent were at 'serious risk of drowning - they either cannot swim (8 per cent) or can only swim for one minute (7 per cent) in swimming-pool conditions, and half refuse to wear life jackets.
According to the research paper, every drowning death was a cost of $4.2 million to society. One third of the 121 fishers surveyed had either been swept off the rocks while fishing, or knew somebody who had and 65 per cent agreed that 'being swept off their feet was likely to result in their drowning'.
One third of rock fishermen surveyed spoke Chinese, either Mandarin (18 per cent) or Cantonese (15 per cent) and 20 per cent spoke Korean.
Randwick, which boasts 29km of coast – just 0.11 per cent of the entire Australian coastline - accounted for 27 per cent of the rock fishing deaths in 2011-12.
While Randwick Council called for mandatory life jackets, recreational fishing groups and the Shooters and Fishers Party have rejected the calls, saying police resources would be better spent on crime than climbing up and down rocks enforcing life jacket laws.
'An inflatable life jacket is no good in these circumstances, you get smashed against the rocks, it punctures and you are dead,' Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Brown said. 'You have to combine the weather condition with the tides, the only way is to educate them to listen to the forecasts or look at the conditions.'
Rock fishers surveyed between February and April 2013 were split on the issue with 55 per cent supporting compulsory life jackets, 33 per cent opposing them and 12 per cent unsure while 70 per cent said 'shock signage' showing the number of fishing deaths at each spot would be 'extremely likely to reduce the rate of rock fishing accidents'.
The discussion paper said the burden on resources to enforce life jacket laws could be shared with councils, noting that search and rescue operations on rocks were 'resource intensive and dangerous'.
'Working in the surf zone area adjacent to rock platforms is high risk for all emergency response personnel. Often these are volunteers, and while well trained, are giving of their time and experience at their own risk,' it said.
Education campaigns, multilingual signs and funding recreational fishing alliance volunteers were also identified as important.
More at http://www.watersafety.nsw.gov.au/resources/reports.html