Recfishwest has hit out at further delays for improving safer fishing infrastructure at an infamous fishing location in our State’s South, more than seven years after the tragic deaths of two fishermen there.
Chunjun Li, 42, and Jiaolong Zhang, 38, were rock fishing at the infamous Salmon Holes in Albany onApril 18, 2015, during dangerous swell conditions.
Neither were wearing life jackets before they were swept into the water by a rogue wave. Mr Li surfaced on a nearby beach, but bystanders were unable to revive him. Mr Zhang’s body was never recovered despite an intensive land, sea and air search over four days.
After the tragedy unravelled, the deputy state coroner made five crucial recommendations. One of those was all rock fishers were required to wear life jackets at Salmon Holes, another called for Telstra to install a mobile phone tower in the area to ensure better phone coverage in the event of future emergencies.
The need for this tower is paramount as the only current mobile coverage at Salmon Holes is in the carpark – an extremely dangerous proposition for someone in an emergency.
Recfishwest continues to place a high priority on safe fishing information and infrastructure improvements as part of our safe fishing program.
Under this program, we call for better provision of communication infrastructure to allow for quicker response times from emergency services in the event of incidents involving fishers.
Telstra tried to install a mobile base at Salmon Holes several years ago where the men lost their lives as part of their mobile blackspot program, although the site was declined by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) due to their concerns on the visual amenity impacts of the national park.
No other locations could be negotiated, so the plans were abandoned. Telstra are now spending the next few months finalising the design of a new tower to be placed at Cave Point lighthouse, a 13.25-metre structure which sits between The Gap and the Blowholes in Albany.
DBCA have confirmed it was working with Telstra to assess the project’s feasibility. If the site is given the green light, construction is expected to start in March of 2023.
“The fact that it has taken all this time for Telstra and DBCA to come to an agreement for plans for a mobile phone mast eight years after these two men tragically lost their lives while rock fishing beggars belief,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “Furthermore, fact that construction on the mast isn’t expected to start until next year is simply unacceptable and is putting fishers’ lives at risk.”
“With the high levels of telecommunication technology we have in our society, there really is no excuse for popular fishing and outdoors locations such as this not to have phone coverage – and certainly not after a coronial inquest recommendations have been made for that to happen.
“We will continue to press for better telecommunications infrastructure on the south coast and other remote parts of the state where people go to fish – it’s a crucial factor in making sure everyone comes home safe after a day’s fishing, as well as all West Australian’s who enjoy experiencing our great outdoors.”
Telstra confirmed it signed a funding agreement for the project several months ago in liaison with federal and state governments. The lighthouse that is being touted as the new Telstra tower location is managed by DBCA and is closed off to the public.
Telstra also constructed a new coverage site at Emu Point back in June and other southern areas such as Pingrup, Spencer Park, Mount Adelaide and Jerramungup. All of these areas are expected to have completed 5G upgrades by the end of September.
Recfishwest also understands there are question marks over whether the phone mast coverage will extend to Salmon Holes. Clearly, more questions need to be answered here.
Thinking about fishing from the rocks? You need to read this article!
Fishing from rocks comes with many risks, particularly in poor weather conditions and high swell. Even seasoned rock fishers can get caught out by so-called ‘rogue’ waves if not fully aware and prepared. Take Recfishwest safe fishing ambassador and famed rock fishing Youtuber, Chris Dixon for example.
Chris’s YouTube channel ‘Dixons Fishing’, keenly watched by 23,000 followers, showcases his fishing adventures from the beach, off boats and from some of WA’s renowned rocks and cliffs.
He is all too aware that the adrenaline rush of hooking up to a rampaging kingie or blue groper “off the stones” can override the constant attention you need to pay to the ocean and what it’s doing when rock-fishing at all times – with the worst possible outcome if you’re not careful. “I had always seen those heart-breaking crosses at fishing spots where tragically others have lost their lives,” said Chris.
Rewind a decade to a 21-year-old Chris eager to try his hand at rock fishing, when he was confident his skills would keep him safe from dangerous waves. “I was young and stupid, but careful. I was thinking surely it wouldn’t happen to me,” said Chris. “On a summer’s day, I was fishing a ledge that faced the Southern Ocean and was gaffing a sizable groper for my brother, Aron. I was five metres below him on a large sloping rock with us both well above the height any waves had been that day. It was a sunny with small swell and light winds, so nice conditions.”
But the mood of the waves can unexpectedly change very quickly
“I lost four grand’s worth of gear, but was lucky not to lose my life,” seasoned rock fisher Chris Dixon.
“Out of nowhere, I looked to my left and watched a wall of white water washing along the rock towards me. I dropped the gaff in my hand and turned and dug my fingers into a crack near my feet, getting as low as I could.
“The water washed right over me for what felt like minutes. Once the water receded, I was left right where I had been but was completely soaked,” said Chris.
“It only took that one wave to wash most of our tackle into the water from where it was set up. I lost $4,000 worth of gear was lost, but I was lucky not to lose my life.
“I had no life jacket on and I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to get out of where I was or make it far enough swimming to reach safety. We were a few hours of four-wheel driving from the nearest highway and far from any help should we have needed it. If I had gone in that day, I am certain I wouldn’t be here now.”
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way and there are simple ways you can prevent yourself from ending up in a similar position by paying close attention to your surroundings before dropping a line off the rocks.
Rethinking what you thought you knew about waves
“That day made me stop and think about my close call with a so-called ‘freak wave’ and the things that caused it. I re-checked the weather for the day and swell was the same size at 1.5m all day, so seemingly nothing to be concerned about,” he said.
“There was however a swell direction change from south-west to south-east and a swell period change from 14-seconds out to 18-seconds. I had no idea what that meant and how it could affect my rock fishing, but with a bit of research and talking to others, I am confident I had figured out the cause of ‘freak’, ‘king’ or ‘rogue’ waves. Whatever you call them, I don’t think they are unpredictable.”
Here are Chris’s tips on how to be one step ahead of the rogue waves.
Spotting wave direction changes
“Firstly, direction changes. With rock fishing your waves go back and forth in a rhythm. If you sit and watch a spot before fishing, you’ll see how most waves do almost the same thing and then a set will come through and be a little larger, nothing out of the ordinary.
“The most common swell direction for the southern part of the WA coast from Shark Bay to Esperance is south-west. This is what I call the dominant swell direction, and this can change frequently.
“When big high-pressure cells sit in the Great Australian Bight during summer, the swell can be flattened by the easterly winds and then the waves can come from the east along the south coast. Up to 2.5m easterly swells can be seen each summer and this is a dangerous swell if you’re fishing on rocks facing into it.
“Winter storms or cold fronts can produce southerly or even west-north-westerly swells. On days where the swell direction changes, you can have a wave pattern that comes through with no issues and then one wave will come from the direction it’s changing to. It’s those waves that bounce off the rocks differently.
“It can cause the following few waves to pick up in size and come much higher up the rocks than they would have otherwise. This is what I would call a freak wave. These conditions I find normally come a day before a storm (often the calm before a storm) or during summer as sustained winds change the swell direction.”
Understanding the ‘swell period’ and ‘swell timing’
“The next important factor you need to understand is swell period. There are two parts to this. Put simply, it’s the time between each wave. The larger the number in seconds, the more force the wave has. For example, a 12-second period has 12-seconds between each wave.
For rock fishing, the rhythm of waves is steady if the swell is evenly spaced. If a wave out of time with the others suddenly hits the rocks, it can multiply or bounce off other waves. The easiest way to describe it is like double bouncing someone on a trampoline. This unsteady rhythm can cause unpredictable waves and dangerous conditions. To reduce the risk of coming across a situation like that, I won’t fish any location that faces into the swell direction that has a change in a swell period.
The second part to swell period is the timing. A 12-second wave two metres high has half the energy of an 18-second wave also two metres high. The shorter the swell period, the taller a wave stands up, but it doesn’t have much water behind it moving so it has less energy to push up the rocks. However, a larger swell period of 16-20 seconds like we encounter before storms can be moving a lot more water with a lot more force. Even though the swell is the same size, a longer period wave can push much further up the rocks. I won’t fish any day with an increase in swell period or a swell period over 16-seconds in a location that faces into the swell to avoid these dangerous waves.
With that extra information I can now better predict what the swell is going to be doing and how it will affect my day’s fishing. I can then choose a location to fish that will be safer in the conditions.”
More ways to ensure coming home safely from a day’s rock fishing
Chris also recommends keeping a logbook and recording conditions each time you fish – if you’re serious about fishing from the rocks on a regular basis.
“I have a diary that I keep with all the conditions from all spots I’ve fished previously. I can then look at the weather forecast for the day I want to fish and check my diary to confirm it’s been safe to fish that weather in the past. Since making a few changes like that over the past decade since my scare, I haven’t come across another freak wave,” he said.
If you’re not experienced rock fishing should not be attempted lightly and keeping the sand between your toes might be a better option. But if you are going to give it a crack, make sure you take on board Chris’s advice above, you should also check out our rock fishing safety tips here.
Recfishwest Safe Fishing Ambassador Scott Coghlan and members of the Albany fishing community joined the Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley in Albany today to announce the State-wide Safe Fishing Strategy’s funding will be extended for four more years.
The McGowan Government will provide $560,000 to support Recfishwest to continue delivering our successful State-wide Safe Fishing Safety Strategy.
The announcement honours the McGowan Government’s 2017 election commitment to provide safer fishing experiences.
As the peak recreational fishing body representing 750,000 recfishers, Recfishwest will continue to lead the State-wide Safe Fishing Strategy and work closely with fishers, land managers and volunteer organisations to ensure fishers return home safe after a day’s fishing.
Over the next four years, Recfishwest will build upon the work undertaken through the State-wide Safe Fishing Strategy which has brought fishing safety into the public spotlight and has seen considerable progress made in changing behaviour and raising community awareness about the need for safety to be a part of every fishing experience.
Earlier this year, Recfishwest put forward a safe fishing package proposal to Government which was adopted and announced by Minister Tinley today. The announcement will see:
Recfishwest work alongside the Bureau of Meteorology to develop a hazardous swell and weather conditions alert system for recreational fishing in high risk areas;
Annual safety campaigns tailored to particular fishing seasons, species and methods.
“Recfishwest works tirelessly to promote the need for safety to be part of every fishing experience,” Recfishwest CEO Andrew Rowland said. “We work closely in partnership with local communities to drive behaviour change that has safe fishing at its core and invest in safety infrastructure across the State.
“The funding commitment made today will allow us to continue to work closely the community in ensuring the State’s 750,000 recreational fishers come home safe, whether they be rock fishers, boat fishers, kayak fishers, or spearfishers.
“We thank the Minister for Fisheries Peter Tinley and the McGowan government for honouring the election commitment and for once again entrusting Recfishwest to deliver positive on-the-ground outcomes for fishers.”
Renowned for its pristine coastal landscapes, beaches and unique rock formations, Esperance is a popular spot for recreational fishing, hikers and four wheel drive enthusiasts.
With fishing high on the agenda for travelling families and tourists to the region, as they take a break in this beautiful seaside town, it’s the rocky terrain and unforgiving weather conditions at times, that can turn a pleasant trip down South into a disaster when lives are lost from slipping from a rock whilst fishing.
In late January 2017, two children (9 & 11yo) from a family went for a swim at Hellfire Bay (50km’s from Esperance, near Lucky Bay) and became caught in a rip. The father watched from the rocks, before noticing the children getting into trouble and moving into deeper water. An Angel Ring (life buoy) was located close by and the man was able swim the ring to his children who were then able to grab hold of it and together they were able to swim sideways to the rip and make their way safety ashore.
Local community champions Graham Cooper, Mike Spencer, Brett Thorp and Vince Evans have been working hard to keep their community safe when fishing from the rocks.
The team, who are all members of the South East Coast Recreational Fishing Council, recently installed six new Angel Rings and one Rock Anchor Point in areas which were identified as high-risk rock fishing locations along the coast from Quaggi Beach to Hopetoun.
‘’Who knows what would have happened if the Angel Ring wasn’t there,” said Mike.
‘’We applied for a Recfishwest Community Grant and have been pushing for more public safety equipment, such as Angel Rings and Rock Anchor Points to be installed at high risk fishing locations along the South Coast.”
‘’We could have had a three person fatality count that day. This incident certainly covers all the costs of installing the Angel Rings along the South East Coast.’’
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland commended the South East Coast Recreational Fishing Council for their efforts over so many years to keep West Aussies safe.
‘’Graham, Mike, Brett. Vince and others are great community role models and champions, volunteering their time to install public safety equipment which so many fishers rely on,” Dr Rowland said.
”Angel rings are an important part of our Fishing Safety Program and they have been used to save lives on the south coast.’’
“There are so many great people around WA who have dedicated their time to help their community stay safe when out fishing, from Quobba to Esperance, these people have hearts of gold and the 750,000 WA fishers should be grateful for the service they provide!”
Thanks to community partners and local helpers, more Angel Rings are set to be installed in Bremer Bay and Denmark. Currently there are 61 locations across the state with 67 Angel Rings installed for the community’s safety. View the locations here.
If you know of a rock fishing location that could do with an Angel Ring, let Recfishwest know at firstname.lastname@example.org.