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Hundreds of recreational fishers from more than 40 nationalities attended the tenth and largest Surf Life Saving NSW rock fishing safety program, Gone Fishing, at Bondi Beach on 27 May.

Funded with support from the NSW Government, the participants and their families learned all about staying safe while engaging in one of our most dangerous recreational pastimes. The sessions are all about knowledge and skill-building and cover how to interpret weather reports, how to assess conditions on rock shelves and what gear and equipment you need to stay alive while chasing that all important catch.

The key piece of safety equipment is of course an Australian standard lifejacket and every one of the participants receives a free, high-quality lifejacket at the end of each session.

The Bondi workshop was the final one in the initial program funded by the NSW Recreational Fishing Fund, targeting at-risk communities. Almost 1000 lifejackets have been distributed through the workshops held all over NSW during the last 8 months.

In NSW for the 2021-22 year, 11 people lost their lives while rock fishing. Since 1 July 2022, there have been five rock fishing related fatalities, including a 57 year-old man at Lennox Head in mid May.

Surf Life Saving Sydney Branch President Elissa Hancock said it was fantastic to see so many people at Bondi for the workshop.

“It’s an incredible turnout and I can see that the people who have attended come from all over Sydney.  It’s great to have it at a place like this, where it is accessible and they can come and learn about rock fishing safety,” said Ms Hancock.

“We take it for granted if we live near the coast, that everyone knows about surf safety. But bringing people from all over Sydney, bringing them to the coast and educating them is an important part of our role as lifesavers.”

Dr Marjorie O’Neill, the Member for Coogee and a volunteer lifesaver at Clovelly SLSC said she was impressed by the turnout and congratulated Surf Life Saving NSW on the initiative.

“It’s great, we’ve got people from across our community, wanting to know how they can rockfish in the safest way.

“As a surf lifesaver, I’ve seen first hand how quickly the conditions can change and it’s really important that everyone knows how to react so that they remain safe and can go home at the end of the day to their families,” said Dr O’Neill.

The workshop sessions held in the morning involved experts from Fisheries, Maritime NSW and angling groups taking participants through how to choose and wear a correctly fitted lifejacket, safe clothes and footwear to pack and how to read a weather forecast or assess the surf conditions.

After lunch, participants walked out to the headland at North Bondi where local lifesavers pointed out the location-specific hazards, tides, swell, signage and what to do in an emergency. Lifesavers gave a practical demonstration of what to do if you get washed into the ocean and showed people how rescues are conducted close to the rocks, using an inflatable rescue boat and jetski.

Feedback from course participants was extremely positive, with even experienced anglers learning something new.

“Courses like this should be frequently happening, to help people in the community to build up their confidence, because safety is the priority for everyone,” said Keyur from Parramatta.

Macgyver from Marsden Park brought his wife and kids along to learn more about how to stay safe, despite being an experienced fisherman. “I wanted to learn some tips and tricks and about beach safety, and I’m also interested in getting the free life vest at the end.”

Jim from Five Dock said the trip to Bondi was well worth the effort and he learned things he didn’t know before. “Perfect, excellent day. I learned that when we are in the water, we have to swim to the ocean, not towards the rock, that’s very dangerous.”

Amr Sheiba who is a rockfishing expert and has presented at many of the workshops in the series, said it was a great initiative.

“I have really enjoyed sharing my experience and give people a different perspective on rockfishing. Whether you’re experienced or a beginner, you can suddenly get caught by a wave and need to know what to do. Hopefully they are now more cautious, they do their homework, they take it seriously. Rockfishing is great fun, but it can be risky if you don’t take the right precautions,” said Amr.

SLSNSW CEO, Steve Pearce said the organisation was extremely proud of the Gone Fishing program and hopes the initiative will be supported to continue by the NSW Government.

“We know we have had a positive impact on at-risk communities and hope this is reflected in our coastal drowning toll moving forward,” said Steve Pearce.

“Our Community Education team has done a fantastic job coordinating the program and we’re grateful for the support from the DPI, Maritime NSW and all our rockfishing experts who have given up their time to help educate others and share their love of the sport.”

The event success was also driven by the tremendous partnership with Waverley Council. Mayor Masselos attended to both welcome the participants and their families and advocate the importance of rock fishing safety within the Waverley electorate.

SLSNSW CEO Steven Pearce stated it was great to see the collaboration between SLSNSW and the Bondi Lifeguards who assisted the safety sessions with jet ski rescue demonstrations and highlighted the dangerous locations for rock fishing in the Waverley area.

Monday 29 May 2023