Phone tower plan delays at infamous fishing spot puts lives at risk

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.  

As seen in this image, conditions at Salmon Holes in Albany can turn nasty. Thankfully it was a lucky escape for the anglers pictured on the right.

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.  

Find a range of safe fishing resources on our website here    

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. 

Recfishwest firmly supports the development of infrastructure that makes fishing safer, such as the deployment of Angel Rings at all dangerous fishing locations.

“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.

Chris Dixon’s tips on avoiding the dangers of rock fishing

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.

Check out Chris’s YouTube channel by clicking here

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

Rock fishing’s rewards should never make you lose sight of the risks involved – no fish is worth your life!

“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.”

Click here to watch this video on how to fish the south coast safely

Here are Chris’s tips on how to be one step ahead of the rogue waves.

Spotting wave direction changes

Wave and swell conditions can change very quickly along the WA coastline.

“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.

 

Chris’s brother, Aron, with a very solid hook-up on the south coast.

South Coast Sport Fishing at its Best!

Some of you would have seen Jack Dawson’s awesome Swordfish catch a few weeks ago on the South Coast of WA. So we contacted Jack to get his story about the fish. Great little read including approximate age of the fish (younger than most would think!!)

Here is Jack’s Story:

I’ve been targeting swordfish on the south coast of Western Australia for about two and a half years.

On the successful day I launched at 4am from a boat ramp in Oyster Harbour not far from my house with a mate. The weather was pretty good for Albany, the wind was about 8-10 knots with a metre of east sea slop on top of a 2.5 metre southwest swell. Those conditions made it a slower than usual trip to the shelf but we arrived at a good samson fish spot at the top of the canyon at about 6am. First drop resulted in a nice samson fish on jig.

I had one drop for a sword in the middle of the canyon with squid bait for no luck before steaming for another half an hour to a 50 metre lump coming out of 770 metres. Things I did differently was switching from squid bait to freshly caught fish belly strip sticked into the hook, this bait swum naturally and is much more durable than squid which is important because there are lots of small dog sharks and squid that shred your bait. Also sword fish feed by swiping at their prey with their bill to stun the prey before eating it. Any bait that is not tough and secured to the hook will be knocked off by these powerful swipes.

I noticed small bites that are typical of swordfish about 15 minutes into the drift and I started to tease the fish by dropping the bait back 20 metres and bringing it back up, I continued this for about 20 minutes before the sword committed to the bait and I came up tight.

The fight was actually quite un-spectacular, it took about half an hour but the fish basically swam strait to the surface, this is not unusual for a sword fight however they usually dive back down to 600 metres and the real fight begins, I think we were lucky enough to leader the fish on its first surface. Largely thanks to my mate, Matt Stadler, who fearlessly grabbed the bill bare handed and held on while it thrashed alongside before we could secure the capture.

The most applicable local study I have found on swordfish age and growth data was an FRDC paper published in 2001 (Age and growth of broadbill swordfish (Xiphias gladius) from Australian waters) by authors Jack Young and Anita Drake. This study looked at age and growth (length) of 188 swordfish caught in the Southern and Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery and 1589 swordfish caught from the Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. The results from the Western Australian fish (Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean inside the EEZ) showed that the oldest female was 15 years of age and the oldest male was 9 years of age. This study produced a pretty accurate length to age radio which indicates the fish I caught most likely ranged in age from 5 to 9 years. 

Other interesting findings were that female sword fish numbers almost doubled male numbers and that females grow much older and larger (the east coast study found an 18 year old female and a 13 year old male). In general you can say that sword fish are very fast growing and relatively short lived compared with common table fish that WA fishers are used to catching (Bight redfish have been aged up to 84 years old) and therefore, in my opinion, a very responsible fish to target for food. If you do the maths you would have to catch 150 bight red fish to get the same amount of fillets (50kg, fillet retention on bight redfish is about one third of body weight), therefore if an average large (3kg) bight red fish is 50 years of age then you would have to kill 7500 years of life in order to match the harvest off the approximately six year old swordfish. Literally food for thought.

Another interesting point is that when I filleted the swordfish I discovered it was a ‘pumpkin.’ This is a term used in sword fishing circles and the seafood industry to describe the highest quality and most desirable swordfish flesh. The flesh of a ’pumpkin,’ as the name suggests has an orange tint and is thought to be a result of a fish that has been feeding extensively on red deep water shrimp. The astaxanthin (a carotenoid) in the shrimp is thought to tint the sword fishes flesh. Pumpkin’s are considered tastier than normal, white fleshed swordfish. My sword was delicious and only two weeks after its capture it has nearly all been eaten. The flesh holds together like a beef steak however is very tender and has a sweet prawn flavour.

Dated 10th October 2018.