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Safety programme given go-ahead for next summer

Safety programme given go-ahead for next summer

Five drownings in 2005 and eleven in the last six years – all as a result of rock fishing on Auckland’s West Coast beaches. These grim statistics prompted a strong call to action from some of the region’s water safety authorities last summer, with surprising results.

The Auckland Regional Council (ARC), together with WaterSafe Auckland and Surf Life Saving Northern Region, carried out a pilot programme between late February and Easter 2006. Four rock fishing safety advisors were employed on a temporary basis, for the duration of the programme, to actively seek out rock fishers at Muriwai, Karekare, Piha and Whatipu beaches and talk to them about safety when rock fishing.

The ARC’s Parks and Heritage Committee today resolved to run the programme again next summer, starting in October 2006.

ARC Parks and Heritage Committee Chair Cr Sandra Coney says the programme’s approach was innovative and necessary.

“Drowning numbers prompted us to really think hard about what was happening at the high-energy beaches on Auckland’s West Coast. Close examination of these statistics also identified another disturbing trend – many of the fishers who lost their lives came from our region’s Asian communities.

“Rather than mounting an advertising campaign or merely handing out brochures, we asked ourselves how we could reach the rock fishers directly. Changing our way of thinking has been an important part of this initiative too.”

Another important part of the programme has been gathering information about rock fishers. Safety advisors surveyed 250 fishers at the four locations on weekends over the seven-week period.

The survey, designed and managed by Dr Kevin Moran of the University of Auckland, aimed at collecting demographic information and understanding the beliefs and behaviours of Auckland’s West Coast rock fishers.

“Apart from the drowning statistics, which offer only basic information, all of our evidence has been anecdotal up until now. It is extremely useful to know who is fishing, how old they are, where they come from and a little more about their behaviours out on the rocks,” says Cr Coney.

Of the 250 fishers surveyed, 49% were Asian, 33% European and 10% Pasifika, and 42% had been resident in NZ for less than four years

“Some other alarming results came out of the survey and we hope to address these again during the next programme,” says Cr Coney.

• 72% never wear a lifejacket or other flotation device
• Almost half (48%) had gone to the waters edge to retrieve a snagged line
• More than one third (36%) had worn gumboots or waders
• Only 32% estimated they could currently swim non-stop for 25m or less
• More than half (58%) had no ability to perform a deep-water rescue
• 62% had limited or no ability to perform CPR
• 36% were at the site for the first time.

In an effort to understand a little more about the fishers’ attitude toward safety on the rocks they were asked to respond to a series of statements relating to their perception of the risk of drowning associated with rock fishing.

• One third (38.8%) thought rock fishing no more risky than other aquatic activities
• Almost one third (30%) didn’t consider drowning a constant threat when rock fishing
• One third (32.4%) felt that other fishers were at greater risk than themselves
• Most (70.6%) thought wearing a lifejacket made fishing a lot safer, yet most (72%) never wore one
• Most thought that turning their backs to the waves when rock fishing was very dangerous (91.8%) although half had done so.

As custodians of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and Muriwai Regional Park the ARC has a duty of care to visitors to this area. Park rangers are all too often called to assist when accidents occur or are involved in Search and Rescue exercises.

“I would like to pay special tribute to the four advisors the ARC employed to spend summer weekends carrying out the survey and talking to people on the beaches. This team contributed their experience of the outdoors, knowledge of Asian languages and communities, and a talent for relating to members of the public.

“We are also grateful for the support from WaterSafe Auckland and Surf Life Saving Northern Region. Each agency has brought their individual expertise to the programme with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of fatalities on West Coast beaches.

“We hope that this partnership will continue with the programme and that we will soon see a shift in attitudes toward rock fishing,” says Cr Coney.


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