STRONG currents and sets of waves saw dozens of abalone fishers knocked off their feet during the first fishing period of the season.
One fisher from Balcatta, Frederico Nevolo (52), died in hospital on Tuesday after being pulled from the water at Mettams Pool in North Beach during Sunday’s one-hour fishing period.
WA Police spokeswoman Ros Weatherall said his death was not being treated as suspicious and a report would be prepared for the Coroner.
Yanchep Surf Life Saving Club president John Heesters said a dozen volunteers on patrol at Yanchep Lagoon helped 35 of the 50-60 fishers out on the reef last Sunday.
Mr Heesters said lifesavers helped 23 of those people using rescue boards and 12 using rescue tubes.
Frustrated that volunteers had put their own lives at risk, he said the Department of Fisheries should cancel the fishing session if conditions meant it could be dangerous for people to go on to the reef.
“Every year we have a rough day; I don’t know why fisheries can’t just shut the day,” he said.
“They have also got to worry about the people involved, not just the fish.
“Fisheries are dropping the ball by issuing 17,000 licences to people who can’t swim.
“It puts our people on the reef at risk of their lives; they are trying to fight the really strong current, the jagged reef and people with knives in their hands.”
Mr Heesters said one volunteer, Jo Morey-Prior, needed to see a doctor for leg injuries sustained while helping a fisher during the November 6 fishing hour.
Vice-president Sharon Taylor said lifesavers put one man on oxygen after helping him back to shore and recommended he go to a medical centre.
“It wasn’t that he couldn’t breathe; it was just a prevention thing,” she said.
Mr Heesters said one woman he helped panicked when the rescue board tipped over in a wave, so she was holding him under water.
“They are in fear of their lives,” he said.
Fisheries South West bioregions manager Tim Nicholas said the department’s primary responsibility was to administer the Fish Resources Management Act 1994 and ensure the sustainability and good management of WA’s aquatic resources.
Mr Nicholas said safety was important but the Department’s powers did not extend to closing beaches for safety reasons.
“The department promotes safety via an educational approach, with the emphasis being on the fisher’s responsibility to ensure their own safety when undertaking fishing activity,” he said.
“Fisheries works with Surf Life Saving WA and Recfishwest to inform and educate recreational abalone fishers on safety.
“The department recognised fisher safety as an important consideration in developing the current management arrangements for the fishery, specifically providing five one-hour sessions … so that fishers have multiple opportunities to choose to safely fish for abalone.
“This abalone season, in collaboration with Surf Life Saving WA and Recfishwest, the department issued pre-season reminders to people to fish safely, to not take risks and to consider their own safety before putting themselves in dangerous situations.”
Mr Heesters said the volunteers also spoke to every fisher and group, turning some back to the beach if they were wearing inappropriate clothing, such as work boots.
“Over four years we have modified our abalone special patrol,” he said.
“We put our lifesavers on the reef with the actual fishers.
“As they walk passed us, we ask if they can swim.”
Mr Nicholas said at five hours in total, the WA abalone recreational fishing season was one of the most regulated and shortest fishery seasons in the world.
“Fisheries has the option to adjust the length of the West Coast Zone abalone fishing season if it is required for sustainability reasons, however, the department does not have responsibility (or the power) to close beaches for safety reasons,” he said.
“Any decision to close access to any beach for safety reasons, i.e. due to dangerous conditions, rests with Surf Life Saving WA and/or the local council responsible for that beach.”
Mr Heesters said conditions last Sunday were not dangerous enough for most beach activities, but were dangerous for fishing on the reef.
Mr Nicholas said Fisheries would not make swimming competency a requirement for people to receive abalone-fishing licences.
THE Department of Fisheries issued eight infringement notices with fines to abalone fishers between Mandurah and Yanchep on November 6.
One person received a $1000 fine at waters near Vigilant Terrace in Ocean Reef for exceeding the bag limit after taking 32 abalone, 17 more than the limit of 15.
At waters near Resolute Way in Ocean Reef, Fisheries officers issued two $200 infringement notices and three warnings to people for exceeding the bag limit.
They issued another two warnings for taking undersized abalone, which are totally protected.
At waters off Shenton Avenue in Iluka, officers issued eight warnings for exceeding the bag limit and one for undersized fish.
In Burns Beach, they issued one $200 fine and two warnings for exceeding the bag limit, plus two warnings for undersized fish.
In Mindarie, one person received a $200 fine for fishing without a recreational abalone fishing licence, and six warnings were given; five for undersized abalone and one for fishing outside the season.
At Yanchep Lagoon, officers issued two warnings for exceeding the bag limit and two for undersized abalone.
Before the season opened last week, a statement from the Fisheries Minister Joe Francis said the Department had issued almost 17,000 licences this season.
“Fisheries officers will patrol abalone fishing spots on the allocated fishing days, to ensure fishers are licensed and aware of the rules,” Mr Francis said.
“It is very important fishers measure carefully to ensure an abalone is legal size before removing it from a reef, and to abide by the bag limit.
“Recreational abalone fishers should also keep their safety in mind at all times and not take risks if they encounter bad weather or big swells during the season. No abalone is worth a life.”
The abalone season is open from 7am-8am on the first Sunday of each month from November to March between Moore River and Busselton Jetty.
The minimum legal size for Roe’s abalone is 60mm and the daily bag limit is 15.