4 January 2024

Wearing lifejackets now compulsory at Wollongong's rock fishing spots

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Rock fisherman with waves crashing around them.

Rock fishermen face fines for not wearing a lifejacket. Photo: iStock/John Porter.

If you’re heading out for a spot of rock fishing in the Wollongong area these holidays, make sure you’re wearing a lifejacket, or you’ll run the risk of a $100 fine.

The Wollongong Local Government Area, from Helensburgh to Windang, has joined eight other NSW councils on a list of declared areas where lifejackets are now mandatory.

Since January 2021, six rock fishers have lost their lives at the rock platform known as Honeycomb Rocks at Port Kembla.

According to Royal Life Saving Australia, rock fishing is known to be the most dangerous sport in Australia, claiming the lives of about 13 people each year.

It says on average, four per cent of drowning deaths in Australia each year occur when people are rock fishing. People born overseas account for about 60 per cent of all rock fishing related drowning deaths.

Under the NSW Rock Fishing Safety Act 2016, people rock fishing in a declared area such as Wollongong are now required by law to wear an appropriate lifejacket.

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A 12-month moratorium on fines has ended, and $100 on-the-spot fines will be issued to those caught flouting the law.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery said council had installed updated warning signage at Port Kembla’s Hill 60 to remind fishers of their responsibilities.

The new signage is written in English with the key safety message translated in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Burmese and Vietnamese.

“Over the coming months, council will continue to roll out rock fishing signage at several other high-risk locations,” Cr Bradbery said.

“We want to get the word out to people planning on rock fishing that lifejackets are not optional.

“Rock fishing is one of the riskiest sports in Australia. The ocean is extremely dangerous and unpredictable.

“Council’s decision to opt in to the NSW Government declared areas in 2022, was one way we could enforce the wearing of lifejackets.

Rock fishing safety signs installed at Port Kembla.

The new rock fishing safety signs installed at Port Kembla. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

“The new signage, installed at Hill 60, will make it blatantly obvious that penalties will apply to people who are caught fishing without a lifejacket.

“It joins the existing signage that gives a stark warning of the danger, by listing the number of people who have died rock fishing at this location.

“NSW Police will be monitoring these areas and may issue on-the-spot fines to people fishing without a lifejacket. Be warned.”

Lake Illawarra Police District Commander Superintendent Craig Ireland echoed Cr Bradbery’s warning, and said lifejackets were an important safety measure.

“The introduction of mandatory lifejackets for rock fishing is an important measure that will increase the safety of everyone who engages in this activity,’’ he said.

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“The unpredictable nature of the ocean has seen too many lives lost, regardless of experience levels or local knowledge.

“Police would love to see compliance with the signage rather than issue fines. But ultimately, the rock fishing rules are designed to save lives and police will be involved in patrolling these areas to ensure compliance.’’

Marine Rescue NSW Illawarra Inspector Stuart Massey said rock fishers should check the weather and conditions before heading out and keep checking them.

“Rock fishers should avoid coastal rock platforms exposed to the ocean and seek a safe location that is sheltered from the surf,” he said.

“Know the area you intend to fish and please don’t take unnecessary risks that could be life-threatening.

“Don’t fish alone, and tell someone where you’re going and when you’re due back so an alert can be raised as quickly as possible if you don’t return as planned.”

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