Rock anglers at risk as life jacket warnings ignored

Warnings for rock fishers are being ignored, a new study has found, with an innovative approach needed to avoid further tragedies.

Warnings for rock fishers are being ignored, a new study has found, with an innovative approach needed to avoid further tragedies.

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

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

“The campaign followed best practice at the time and promoted the importance of wearing life jackets, not fishing alone and checking sea and weather conditions,” Prof Morgan said.

“We interviewed rock anglers online and in person, and remotely observed angler behavior at multiple rock fishing sites, to see how deeply these messages were penetrating. Positively, our observers at the fishing sites noted that most people were not fishing alone and checked conditions upon arrival.

“However, alarmingly, over 30% of online participants and over 60% of those surveyed at the fishing grounds said they never wear a life jacket. Our observers reported that almost no one wore a life jacket. rescue,” Prof Morgan said.

LSV’s senior research associate and chief executive, Dr Bernadette Matthews, said rock fishing is one of Australia’s most dangerous aquatic leisure activities.

“Nationally, from 2004 to 2021, there has been an annual average of 12 reported rockfisher deaths by drowning. Between 2000 and 2012, 13 rock fishermen died by drowning in Victoria,” said Dr Matthews.

“Of the 13 rock fishermen who tragically drowned in Victoria between 2002 and 2012, 85% were from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and none of those who died were wearing life jackets.”

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

“Most rock fishers are at high risk of drowning by not wearing a life jacket. The legal requirement for lifejackets for identified high risk fishing grounds is currently being tested in several Australian states,” Prof Morgan said.

He said future campaigns need innovative or new design, over a longer duration, to capture the attention and change behaviors of rock fishers.

“The study highlights that behavior change, particularly within a male population, is challenging for both CALD and non-CALD communities. One promising strategy is targeted education within communities using local ambassadors,” said Prof Morgan.

For more information on rock fishing safety, including resources for CALD communities, visit

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