SENDING text messages or emails with safety advice to most of WA’s 17,000 abalone fishers is one strategy authorities may use to improve safety.
The first day of the abalone season on November 6 featured rough conditions along the Perth coast, with one abalone fisherman dying in hospital two days after being pulled from the water at Mettams Pool.
A dozen Yanchep Surf Life Saving Club (YSLSC) volunteers helped 35 of the fishers on the reef at Yanchep Lagoon during that one hour, compared to two rescues in the following four beach patrol hours.
Department of Fisheries strategic fisheries policy manager Nathan Harrison said the department was working closely with Surf Life Saving WA to review forecast data in the week leading up to each Sunday fishing session.
Mr Harrison said the department had email addresses or mobile numbers for about 80 per cent of this year’s 17,000 licence holders.
He said it would use that database to send safety messages out in the days leading up to abalone fishing periods.
“This review will be used to determine if fisheries and or beach closures are required,” Mr Harrison said.
“The department will also be using variable message signage on the beaches to promote safety messages.
“This will be in addition to issuing press releases etc on the Friday before fishing to promote awareness of the fishing conditions and need for fishers to take responsibility for their safety.”
YSLSC president John Heesters said while conditions did not warrant closing the entire beach last month, the sea was too rough for abalone fishing.
Based on the number of people participating, deaths and the amount of hours permitted – 25 hours in the past five years – Mr Heesters said abalone fishing was more dangerous than rock fishing.
“That’s the most dangerous pastime or activity you can be involved in,” he said.
Mr Harrison said closing the fishery using legislation required the gazettal of an Order, which required ministerial approval.
“The timeframe to have this legislation in place requires a decision to close the fishery six days prior to fishing,” he said.
“This is problematic and highlights the fact that fisheries legislation is not practical for managing public safety issues.
“In the lead up to fishing days SLSWA will continue to monitor weather conditions and liaise with local government agencies to determine if beach closures are required on the day.
“SLSWA and local government have the authority to close beaches.”
Mr Heesters said conditions looked calmer for the December 4 fishing session.
“It’s looking like it is going to be a low tide with a 1m swell with a nine-second period,” he said.
Mr Harrison said the date for the third fishing session of this season – January 1 – was also being reviewed for safety reasons.
“If approval is given, this fishing day will likely be moved to Sunday, January 8,” he said.
Mr Heesters said presidents from all surf life-saving clubs were briefed on Monday about the measures to improve safety.
He said while he did not think solutions would happen “overnight”, it was encouraging to see high level discussions between various organisations.