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Coastal Awareness Training Needed To Address One Of The Deadliest Recreational Pursuits In NZ: Rock-based Fishing

The West Coast Rock-based Fisher Safety Project will conduct coastal awareness training this week to educate safety advisors to aquatic recreationalists on the best practise for safe rock-based fishing.

Rock fishing continues to be one of New Zealand’s most dangerous pastimes. The project, a collaborative intervention by Auckland Council, Drowning Prevention Auckland (DPA) and Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR), was first established in 2006 after five fishers lost their lives off Auckland’s West Coast in late in 2005.

In spite of the persistence of rock-based-fishing fatalities on Auckland’s west coast, little was known about this fishing fraternity, their demographics, perceptions of associated risk of drowning or their water safety behaviours when fishing at hazardous locations.

Now in its seventeenth year, the project seeks to reduce rock-based fishing fatalities and promote a safe culture among this high-risk group. The implementation of safety advisors who educate fishers through face to face contact has largely succeeded in reducing fisher drownings in West Coast beaches. DPA has reported an average of one rock fishing drowning per year in Auckland since the project’s inception.

Despite this, extended COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns may result in an overestimation of competence of rock fishers and underestimation of the environment. Especially given less opportunity for engagement between the initiative and rock fishers due to COVID restrictions.

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Drowning Prevention Auckland Chief Executive Nicola Keen-Biggelaar says that financial hardship as a result of the pandemic could have also contributed to a recent increase in incidents on the rocks.

“We know people may be struggling to feed their families and this has resulted in more activity at popular coastal fishing sites,” she says. “More people are gathering kai moana without following water safety advice, and it’s so important we are able to educate fishers on how to stay safe”.

After reduced face-to-face contact through various lockdown conditions over the previous 20 months, new and existing safety advisors have a tall task raising awareness, making this week’s training even more imperative.

In a study conducted by the project last year, two thirds of fishers reported they were not aware of any safety promotion in place, but trained advisers were identified as the most frequent source of information and advice for fishers.

In the same study, most fishers (86%) agreed wearing a lifejacket made rock fishing safer, although less than half (40%) reported often/always wearing a lifejacket, a decrease from the previous year (2020, 38%; 2019, 50%).

“It’s a top priority for us to reach new and experienced rock fishers around our coastal areas to reinforce our key messages that can prevent drownings throughout this busy period”, says Surf Life Saving Northern Region Operations Manager James Lea. “Most important is to promote always wearing a lifejacket while rock fishing”.

Such advice that will be taught at this week’s induction includes how to recognise a drowning person, best practise to respond to a crisis, safe methods of rescue from land and revival techniques.

Rock-fishing-specific actions such as checking for conditions, wearing a lifejacket and correct clothing, being aware of waves and swells when on coastal rocks and how to conduct bystander rescues in an open water environment will also be taught in theory and practise across two days, December 20 and 21.

Numerous Auckland Council Rangers will be in attendance at the induction as well as two DPA Rock Fishing Advisors and four SLSNR Rock Fishing Advisors. A Lake Wainamu session and theory will take place today, Monday, and an open water session at Te Henga Bethells Beach will take place from 8am to 1pm tomorrow.

Drowning Prevention Auckland advice for Rock Fishers:

Be smart around rocks.

  • Check conditions. This includes swell, weather and tide forecasts as well as advice on safety signs.
  • Wear a lifejacket and correct clothing. Light clothing, sturdy footwear such as sneakers and a lifejacket are essential.
  • Beware of waves and swells. Always face the sea, never turn your back. Have a clear escape path to safe ground and don’t get caught by an incoming tide or large swell.

To find out more about the West Coast Rock-based Fisher Safety Project and review the 2021 Rock Fishing report, visit

2021 Beach Safety Messages from Surf Lifesaving Northern Region:

  • Choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the flags
  • Read and understand the safety signs – ask a surf lifeguard for advice as conditions can change regularly
  • Don’t overestimate your ability or your children’s ability to cope in the conditions
  • Always keep a close eye on very young children in or near the water – always keep them within arm’s reach
  • Get a friend to swim with you – never swim or surf alone
  • Watch out for rip currents, they can carry you away from shore. If caught in a rip current remember the 3Rs: *Relax and float, *Raise your hand and *Ride the rip
  • Be smart around rocks: When fishing never turn your back towards the sea and always wear a lifejacket
  • If in doubt, stay out!
  • If you see someone in trouble, call 111 and ask for the Police
  • Be sun smart – slip, slop, slap and wrap to protect your skin and eyes from the sun’s damaging ray

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