Rock fishers at risk while life jacket warnings go unheeded in Victoria

A new study has found warnings for people who fish from rocks are going unheeded, with an innovative approach needed to prevent further tragedy.  

Professor Damian Morgan from James Cook University and the Life Saving Victoria (LSV) research team looked at the effectiveness of a three-year safety campaign aimed at rock fishers in Victoria. 

He said rock fishing continues to be a risk in Victorian waters, with on average, one drowning death a year attributed to this activity over the past decade. So far this year, this number is above the average with fears of a further increase by the end of 2022.  

“The campaign was following best practice of the time and promoted the importance of wearing lifejackets, not fishing alone, and checking sea and weather conditions,” Professor Morgan said. 

“We surveyed rock fishers online and in person, and from a distance watched how fishers behaved at several rock fishing spots, to see how well those messages were sinking in. Positively, our observers at fishing spots noted most people did not fish alone and checked conditions on arrival.  

“Alarmingly however, more than 30 per cent of participants online and over 60 percent of people interviewed at fishing spots reported they never wear a life jacket. Our observers reported that almost no-one wore a life jacket,” said Professor Morgan. 

LSV’s principal research associate and general manager Dr Bernadette Matthews said rock fishing is among the most dangerous aquatic recreation activities in Australia. 

“Nationally from 2004-2021, there was an annual average of 12 rock fisher drowning deaths reported. Between 2000-2012 there were 13 rock fisher drowning deaths in Victoria,” said Dr Matthews.  

“Of the 13 rock fishers who tragically drowned in Victoria between 2002-2012, 85 per cent were from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and none of those who died were wearing a life jacket.” 

The research team said the campaign featured Chinese and Vietnamese language warnings, but more needed to be done.  

“Most rock fishers carry high drowning risk through failure to wear lifejackets. Legal mandating of lifejackets for identified high-risk fishing spots is currently being trialed currently across several Australian states,” said Professor Morgan.  

He said future campaigns require innovative or novel design, over longer duration, to capture attention and change rock fisher behaviours.  

“The study highlights that behaviour change, particularly among a male population, is difficult for CALD and non-CALD communities. A promising strategy is targeted education within communities using local ambassadors,” said Professor Morgan.  

For more information on staying safe while rock fishing, including resources for CALD communities, visit lsv.com.au

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