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 on April 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.