Rock fishing has long been a popular recreational past time, but more recently it has garnered attention for the high-risks it poses to participants. 

The New South Wales Government says that there have been 37 rock fishing deaths in just four years and that only one of these victims was wearing a life jacket. 

This has led to calls for compulsory life jackets for rock fishers, a law that is set to be introduced soon. 

A Bit About Rock Fishing

Popular throughout Australia and New Zealand, rock fishing sees participants stand on prominent rock formations and cast off into the sea. 

While it is a popular past time it is also a dangerous one. Rock fishermen are vulnerable to being swept from rocks by rough seas.  Whist our surf life savers do any excellent job, not all rock fishermen can be saved.  Beyond the obvious personal impact, rock fishing deaths also have a social and economic affect, with each incident costing the community hundreds of thousands of dollars in rescue helicopter expenses and medical costs. 

What is the Proposal?

The NSW government has proposed a law for compulsory life jackets for rock fishers.  Failure to wear a life jacket would result in the rock fisherman being fined.

This proposal has been championed by New South Wales Deputy Coroner Carmel Forbes. 

Ms Forbes believes that “the emotional and social cost of these deaths” is simply too high and that more could be done to avoid them. 

It seems that the New South Wales Government is listening too, with Emergency Services Minister David Elliott recently publicly supporting the proposal. 

If introduced, the laws are set to come with a 12 month grace period where rock fishers would not be punished for the offence. Other suggestions to accompany the law include an education program and a subsidy or discount for purchasing a life jacket. 

What the Rock Fishers Say

Rock fishermen themselves are not opposed to the regulations. According to Recreational Fishing Alliance president Malcolm Poole, their only problem is that the current life jacket designs are inappropriate for the sport. 

While life jackets are made to Australian standard, the design is made for boating, rather than the more mobile and active rock fishing. 

This poses a manufacturing challenge for lifejacket producers, who would need to make a new jacket which is fit-for-purpose for the activity. 

Other Challenges

As well as the need for a more appropriate life jacket, these proposed laws face two other major problems: 

  1. Enforcing the Law

The Emergency Services Minister has admitted that the laws will be hard to police. The New South Wales coastline is expansive and many fishermen plan and shift locations based on conditions and yield. 

  1. Communicating the Message

New life jacket laws shouldn’t just be about enforcement, they need to be about awareness. Previous safety messages have failed to get through, and this could be partly because many rock fishers are not native English-speakers. 

With the introduction of new laws and a one year amnesty, the government still needs to find a way to communicate the importance of these laws. One suggestion from the deputy coroner is to employ a shock tactic, erecting signage that clearly indicates the number of deaths associated with the past time. 

In every activity – recreational, professional or incidental – safety first is an important message. However unfortunately accidents do happen.  Our personal injury lawyers are experienced in public liability claims including sporting injury claims.  If you are hurt or have lost a loved one in an accident, be sure to understand your situation and get the help you need.  Telephone our compassionate lawyers on 1800 25 1800 for a free no obligation consultation, or make an online enquiry.