ROCK fishers in NSW could soon face $100 on-the-spot fines for failing to wear life jackets.
But the life jackets would be required only in areas where the local council deemed it necessary.
The new regulations were announced by the state government on Friday.
Minister for Emergency Services Troy Grant said coastal councils would be given the choice to “opt in” to mandate the use of life jackets by rock fishers in their jurisdictions.
Coastal councils that adopted the rules would also receive up to $30,000 to spend on education programs for anglers, and signage at fishing locations.
Both Lake Macquarie and Central Coast councils are expected to opt in.
They share a deadly rocky expanse of coastline from Frazer Park, in Munmorah State Conservation Area, to Catherine Hill Bay.
There has been at least 17 deaths since 2008 between Flat Rock, south of Catherine Hill Bay, and Wybung Head.
“Council staff welcomed the NSW government’s announcement regarding rock fishermen wearing life jackets, and look forward to reviewing further information on the legislation when it is provided,” a spokesperson for Lake Macquarie City Council said.
“Life jackets alone are not the answer. We encourage rock fishers to take care and observe their surroundings more closely, especially in dangerous conditions or at isolated locations.”
The spokesperson said any decision to opt in would be made by a vote of the councilliors.
Central Coast Council said it, too, welcomed the government’s announcement.
“Having the wearing of life jackets enshrined in the Local Government Act would enable council staff to check, educate and enforce the wearing of life jackets while rock fishing,” a spokesperson for the council said.
“It will also ensure that those life jackets being worn by rock fishers comply with the Australian Standard.
“This past summer season has seen over 3 million people visit the Central Coast’s patrolled beaches, including rock platforms.
“Beach Safety staff have completed 741 rescues, treated over 4687 first aid incidents, with 49,888 preventative actions. This initiative being offered to council will be considered as another tool to use in its beach and water safety initiatives.”
The spokesperson said many rock fishers were already playing it safe.
“Many rock fishers already wear life jackets. Central Coast Council will continue to promote the wearing of life jackets as the safest way to get your catch whilst out on the rocks,” they said.
The legislation follows the government’s analysis of data from a 12-month trial at Sydney's Randwick City Council beaches, which ended last November.
The government’s handling of the issue hasn’t impressed Swansea MP Yasmin Catley, whose electorate encompasses Frazer Park.
Ms Catley told Fairfax Media the legislation was lacklustre given a further eight deaths, including one at Snapper Point, had occurred during the Sydney-based trial.
She said the government had failed to take responsibility on the issue.
“First we had a trial, then we had an extension of the trial, and now we have the government saying councils can choose whether or not they want the legislation to apply,” she said.
“The government is passing the buck back to councils to avoid having to actually make a call.”
Mr Grant said it was appropriate that individual councils made decisions about opting in.
“This is consistent with other water safety measures, including signage and lifeguard services,” he said.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast Scot MacDonald said implementation of the opt in system had followed “extensive consultation” with the public, lifesavers, councils and other stakeholders.
“Councils will be a key enforcer and they are in the best position to judge the risks for their region – some coastal councils are very low risk areas,” Mr MacDonald said.
On the question of why, then, life jackets were mandatory for boaties in certain situations, Mr MacDonald said the risks to boaties was widespread along the coast and inland.