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Wearing a lifejacket and checking weather conditions when going fishing off the rocks this summer could save your life and the lives of those around you.
That’s the main message from the three organisations collaborating for a third season on a rock fishing safety programme focussed on Auckland’s west coast beaches.
The partnership between the Auckland Regional Council (ARC), WaterSafe Auckland Inc. and Surf Life Saving Northern Region has launched the third and final phase of its pilot project aimed at reducing the number of rock fishing fatalities on Auckland’s west coast beaches.
This year’s rock fishing safety programme, endorsed by sporting legend Michael Jones, builds on the research, education and behaviour change aspects of the first two years of the project. Over the summer of 2007-2008 the focus will be on getting even more fishers wearing lifejackets while out on the rocks and encouraging an even greater shift toward safe rock fishing behaviour.
This year’s programme will include a trial of new rock fishing safety signs, a poster and brochure campaign, discount coupons for new lifejackets and six rock fishing safety advisors surveying fishers and offering safety advice.
Chair of the ARC Parks and Heritage Committee Councillor Sandra Coney says the west coast rock fishing safety programme began in 2005 in response to an alarming number of rock fishing fatalities and has already shown some positive results.
“In the first year of the programme we found out that ninety six per cent of fishers didn’t wear a lifejacket when fishing off the rocks. We knew that some of the most alarming behaviours and subsequent fatalities were most evident amongst fishers from our region’s Asian communities.
“Our approach, putting Asian-language speaking safety advisors on west coast beaches and rock platforms throughout the summer, provided us with more robust data on rock fishing safety behaviour and helped spread the message that it is vital to wear a lifejacket.
“Last summer safety advisors were again employed to talk to fishers on rock platforms at Muriwai, Piha, Karekare and Whatipu and we reported that fifteen per cent of fishers said they always or often wear a lifejacket.
“Wearing a lifejacket and checking the tide, surf and weather conditions is the safest and most sensible way to enjoy our high energy west coast beaches. This summer we aim to reinforce this message and conclude this pilot programme with recommendations for continued rock fishing safety education,” she says.
The University of Auckland’s Dr Kevin Moran, who has designed and evaluated each season’s survey, says there is no doubt the presence of advisory staff is making a difference and has highlighted the areas to focus on this year.
“Many fishers still think they know the place, that experience will keep them safe and that their swimming ability will keep them out of trouble,” he says.
More than half of the fishers surveyed last summer reported never wearing any lifejacket or flotation aid and fifty five per cent still felt that their local knowledge of the site meant that they were unlikely to get into difficulties.
“This continued confidence in their supposed knowledge of the site and the sea is cause for concern given that one quarter of those surveyed were visiting the site for the first time,” says Dr Moran.
WaterSafe Auckland Inc Drowning Prevention Manager Teresa Stanley comments that another area the project is working to overcome is the social attitude toward lifejackets.
“We have heard anecdotal evidence that some fishers feel it isn’t cool or macho to wear a lifejacket – the consequences of not wearing a lifejacket are far more serious. Manufacturers supporting this project have offered a generous discount on new inflatable-style lifejackets that are a lot less bulky than older designs,” she says.
Discount vouchers, offering $60.00 off the purchase of a Hutchwilco, Safety at Sea or RFD lifejacket will be available from rock fishing safety advisors, at surf lifeguards and the Friends of Whatipu. These can be redeemed at selected retailers.
As part of its commitment to maintaining a fishing safety presence on the west coast beyond the pilot programme, the ARC is beginning a trial of rock fishing safety signs.
The signs will be placed at five west coast sites in late November 2007 and will be removed at the end of the summer safety programme. Consistent with the existing aquatic risk signage that the ARC and local councils have successfully installed, the new signs will carry simple and sensible rock fishing safety related messages.
All signs will be accompanied by brochure holders with rock fishing safety brochures in English, Korean and Mandarin languages.
The effectiveness of the signs will be assessed at the end of the season and, if they prove to be a successful way of improving safe fishing practices on the rocks, may become a permanent fixture.
Project leader, ARC park ranger Stu Leighton says an important part of the signage trial is about finding the most appropriate location.
“We have put the new signs in place of existing or old signs where possible. If it is not appropriate to replace signs, we have tried to find locations that offer high visibility yet are unobtrusive.
“The feedback we gather from the programme’s annual safety behaviour survey, from beach visitors and the local west coast communities, will tell us whether the signs should become permanent,” he says.
The Whatipu sign is being placed at the request of the Friends of Whatipu who will also assist in maintaining the brochure supply and gathering survey information for the programme