Keeping people safe while fishing comes down to improved alerts, communication and awareness – and a new initiative for 2023 will potentially save lives.
As part of the Statewide safe fishing program, funded through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund, Recfishwest is teaming up with the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) to alert fishers about high-risk rock fishing conditions the moment they are forecast.
While our coastline boasts some of the best land-based fishing grounds in the world, the rocky terrain and frequent hazardous conditions combined with poor decision-making plays a prevalent role in fishing fatalities in WA.
That is why from March through to 1 June, and then from 1 October through to 1 June 2024, the Bureau will send alerts to Recfishwest that include details about timing, duration and locations of the forecast dangerous swell conditions.
Recfishwest will then broadcast the alerts through its Facebook and Instagram platforms, reaching a wide range of the fishing community and, if timely, through its weekly fishing reports sent out to all Recfishwest members.
There will be two levels of alert – orange for hazardous conditions and red for extremely hazardous conditions.
The first alert as part of the initiative went out yesterday (Sunday, 12 March) – see below – with a warning in place between Cape Naturaliste and Albany on Monday evening extending out to Israelite Bay on Tuesday morning.
It’s a good example where the weather conditions look fair, but the swell picks in advance of a front coming through.
The alert initiative follows on from a pilot project run by Recfishwest in partnership with the Bureau last autumn which achieved a big reach on social media (an average of 30,000 fishers per post) and generated a lot of positive feedback from the fishing community.
This new initiative has been developed by Recfishwest and the Bureau with input from south coast fishing experts to prevent fishers from wetting a line in precarious conditions – as no fish is worth risking your life for.
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Fishing from rock platforms in big swells comes with inherent risk and inexperienced fishers should keep the sand between their toes and fish from the beach. Even experienced rock fishers can get caught out if they are unaware of big swells.
“We want everyone to come home safe from a day’s fishing and it’s very important to be aware of the conditions before deciding whether to go out and fish. These alerts will help fishers make better informed decisions.
“It’s great to be working with the Bureau of Meteorology in this way to provide what has already proven to be a valuable service when trialed last year. Our thanks to the Bureau for working closely with us to establish this important service.”
James Ashley, Bureau of Meteorology WA Manager added, “We’re really pleased to be able to collaborate with Recfishwest on this initiative – pairing up our expertise with Recfishwest’s reach with the fishing community could potentially save fishers’ lives through these alerts.
“We appreciate fishing is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of West Australians every year and we want to do what we can to ensure they can enjoy it safely.”
For more tips on staying safe while fishing in Western Australia, check out the Fish and Survive website.
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.
Whether fishing from the boat, beach or casting a line from the rocks, recfishers need to make safe fishing a priority and plan for a safe fishing experience particularly in the winter months, says Recfishwest Safe Fishing Officer Alanna Ellison.
“Safe fishing should be a focal part of every fishing experience and it is important recfishers make good decisions about how, where and when they go fishing. We want to make sure everyone returns home safely after a day’s fishing – no fish is worth your life,” Alanna said.
We provide high quality safety equipment at a low cost and have made significant investments in providing safe fishing infrastructure across the State.
Take stock of risks on the rocks
A string of recent incidents has highlighted how important it is to be prepared when considering fishing from rocks.
Fishing from rocks has many inherent risks – particularly in poor weather conditions and high swell. Sadly, in WA, 37 people have died while fishing from rock platforms since 2002 and every one of these deaths was preventable.
Although the angel ring network has improved WA’s safe fishing infrastructure, Alanna said lifejackets are also crucial while fishing land-based or from the boat in tough conditions.
“Lifejackets are an essential piece of safety equipment,” she said. “Whether you are boating, kayaking or rock fishing, a lifejacket may save your life.
“We provide Crewsaver Lifejackets at very competitive prices.
“The jackets are designed to be worn comfortably at all times when fishing in case an emergency quickly unfolds. Every cent we make from the sale of these lifejackets goes back into promoting safe fishing.”
Recfishwest always love an opportunity to connect with the fishing community, and on December 8 we were invited to be part of the Lancelin Angling and Aquatic Club’s first Boat ‘N’ Trailer Day at their Lancelin clubrooms.
The idea of the event was to bring fishers in with their boats and help them keep on top of their trailer, boat and engine maintenance ahead of the coming summer/autumn fishing season.
There was a circuit set up for all the boats and their trailers to be able to cycle through and have their boat inspected by professionals from Big Five Marine who knew what to look for. One lucky boater even had his wheel bearings repacked as part of a demonstration!
It was a great opportunity to have a yarn with all the local fishers who came through the event and it was great to hear they were all very happy with their local fishing opportunities, with many out the morning before pulling pots and bring home a great feed of crays.
The event was also attended by St John WA – Lancelin, the Volunteer Fire Brigade and the passionate Lancelin Volunteer Marine Rescue Western Australia team. This allowed fishers to meet the kind and energetic emergency service people that have their back if something ever goes wrong out on the water, or even on their way to and from the ramp.
We were also privileged to be shown around the VMR’s new premises after the event and it was inspiring to hear about all the businesses and companies that had rolled up their sleeves and pitched in to help build their new shed and office. We chatted to the vollies about their recent rescue efforts and their beloved vessels they keep in premium condition between rescues. The event shows the Lancelin fishing community is in great shape. Their upcoming John Bray Classic on 27 December is another popular community event and has had over 140 children attend in previous years. It was heartening to see the community coming together to help keep everyone safe, maintain their gear and meet the enthusiastic crews that will be there if all else fails.
Click HEREto sign the petition to save Canal Rocks boat ramp!
The recreational fishing community has been angered over the past few weeks as plans to close an important boat ramp in the South West region became apparent.
Canal Rocks Boat Ramp, near Yallingup, has provided fishers access to important local fishing spots for decades. Recently, however, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) is considering closing the ramp, citing safety concerns.
This has been met with anger and frustration from both local and visiting fishers who are set to lose access to one of the South-West’s most loved aquatic playgrounds.
Recfishwest Operations Manager Leyland Campbell who spoke at the rally to hundreds of concerned locals , said the peak body is disappointed not to have been consulted and that all options to keep the ramp open are not being considered.
”We will advocate for the ramp to remain open as it is actually one of the safest ramps in the region and DBCA claims about safety simply don’t add up.”
“The Department of Biodiversity, Conservations and Attractions claim this ramp doesn’t meet Australian Standards (exposure to waves greater than 20cm) however, the standards they are choosing to apply are for boat ramps within marinas, not oceanic ramps. If the government applied this standard to all oceanic boat ramps in Western Australia then over 90% of these ramps would be closed. This is simply not acceptable and cannot go unchallenged.”
“While Recfishwest has a strong track record in advocating for fishing safety, we recognise people must take personal responsibility. It is not the Government’s role to protect the community from every conceivable risk, but it is the Governement’s role to provide the basic community infrastructure required to support our culture and lifestyle,” Mr Campbell said.
“The fishing public of Western Australia accept the risks associated with operating a vessel anywhere in our state, including using discretion to assess any ramp for a safe launch and retrieve.”
Recfishwest believe access to high-quality experiences, including fishing, are paramount to the West Australian lifestyle and must be maintained.
Local fisher Glenn Wakelam can’t believe the ramp is being considered for closure.
“This is such a popular ramp during the summer months. On a nice day, it is not unusual to find over 20 trailers in the carpark,” he said.
“Canal Rocks Boat Ramp has been used by the public for decades and the wave height has not changed over that time.
“People aren’t stupid if the swell is too big, they don’t use the ramp.”
Recfishwest has written to the Environment Minister urging him to reconsider this decision but we need your help to ensure the message is heard loud and clear.
What can you do to help?
1. Sign the petition, HERE.
2. Contact your local MP, and tell them how important it is that we have recreational boating facilities around our great state. Whilst you may not launch at Canal Rocks, your local ramp could be next on the list.
3. Tell everyone you know. The more we can let decision makers know how important access to great fishing experiences is to us, the better our chances of a decision in our favour.
It is common knowledge that the WA coast can be unforgiving. In our State alone we have lost 27 people from rock fishing incidents since 2002, an alarmingly high number for our beloved past time. This is a strong reminder that fishers must always consider the dangers when fishing along our coast. Continue reading “Community heroes keeping fishers safe in the Gascoyne”→
With the saddening news of the latest rock fishing fatality at Quobba, Recfishwest is appealing to rock fishers to fish safely, especially during the Winter months.
Our condolences are with the man’s family, who tragically lost his life while fishing from Quobba’s High Rock, after being swept in on August 13.
Quobba can produce some great land based fishing opportunities, but the risk to you, your friends and family is very high. With vertical cliffs, jagged sharp rocks and big swell, Quobba fishing should only be attempted by people with the right gear and are experienced rock fishers.
Recfishwest has been working with the owners of Quobba Station over the past few months who have recently installed new Angel Rings (Life Rings) at high risk fishing locations along the Quobba coast. We understand that one of the Angel Rings was thrown in a rescue attempt during the incident.
Locations of the Nine Angel Rings recently installed at Quobba are:
Angel Rings are not the only safety equipment that can be used at Quobba to ensure you return home safe. Quobba Stationis a location for Recfishwest’s FREE Life Jacket Loan Scheme, where FREE compact fishing life jackets can be loaned for rock fishers. FREE life jackets can also be loaned from Carnarvon Tackle and Marine, and Tel-O-Mac Tackle (Carnarvon).
Some time ago, passionate and safe rock fishers, also installed rock anchor points into the cliffs at Quobba, adding an additional option for rock fishers to tie themselves onto.
Knowing winter serves up rougher weather conditions (particularly on the West Coast), it is a strong reminder that fishers must always consider the dangers when fishing along our coast.
Recfishwest Fishing Safety Officer Bronte Nardi said a lot of people in the WA (and Australian) community are working tirelessly to keep rock fishers safe, now it’s time for rock fishers to help by minimising the risk of them going in the water.
“Over 150 FREE Life Jackets can loaned from a lot WA tackle shops, Angel Rings are being installed by land managers at high risk fishing locations, fishing safety awareness material are being produced – now we need people who fish from rocks to eliminate
the risks, prepare accordingly and return home safe,” Ms Nardi appealed.
“It’s never nice hearing the news of a missing fisher, and the feeling was definitely echoed through the community, as the majority of people understand the dangers of rock fishing,” Ms Nardi said.
“Recfishwest are once again stressing the importance of taking personal responsibility of your own safety while fishing, by observing conditions and using appropriate safety equipment.”
If you must fish from the rocks, please follow these simple fishing safety messages:
• Know how to swim
• Wear a life jacket
• Never fish alone
• Observe first, fish later
• Use appropriate safety equipment
• Tell someone your plans