Calls for action after yet another Albany rock fishing tragedy

Daryna Zadvirna and Liam CroyAlbany Advertiser
A police helicopter was used to recover a man’s body, believed to be Geoff Bignell, from the southern side of the Bald Head Walk.
Camera IconA police helicopter was used to recover a man’s body, believed to be Geoff Bignell, from the southern side of the Bald Head Walk. Credit: Albany Advertiser, Laurie Benson

The captain of Albany Sea Rescue has repeated his calls for the State Government to follow a WA Coro-ner’s recommendations and introduce compulsory lifejackets for rock fishers in the wake of yet another tragedy on WA’s south coast.

Chris Johns’ pleas come after the disappearance of young Northam couple, Geoff Bignell and Victoria McCloy, who were believed to have fallen into the ocean while rock fishing at Bald Head on November 23. A body believed to be Mr Bignell’s was found last Friday at West Beach.

Mr Johns’ frustrations were shared by Mr Bignell’s father, Matt, who went one step further and called for the government to block access to the most notorious rock fishing spots.

ASR, who were a key part of the search and rescue team, have become all too familiar with the situation, Mr Johns said.

“We’re sadly so used to this, but we’re all family people and all have children, so it’s still been a big weight on all of us,” Mr Johns said.

He said not enough action had been taken after Deputy State Coroner Evelyn Vicker released her findings last year into the rock fishing deaths of three men at Salmon Holes in Torndirrup National Park.

Police believe Mr Bignell and Ms McCloy were fishing on the south side of Bald Head from a rocky ledge, which can be seen from Salmon Holes. At least 15 people have died rock fishing in Torndirrup National Park since 1983.

“This is now the third rock fishing death on the south coast since the inquiry,” Mr Johnson said.

“And to the best of our knowledge, none of the people were wearing a personal floating device — that’s the absolute frustration.”

Matt Bignell with his son Geoff.
Camera IconMatt Bignell with his son Geoff.

Matt Bignell said he planned to contact authorities to speak about what could be done to prevent further rock fishing tragedies.

“I just wish they’d stop people going to those places. It’s so dangerous down there,” Mr Bignell said. “If it was a dangerous bit of road, they’d put a stop to it quick smart.”

In April last year, Albany man Samuel Roth was believed to have died after falling into the ocean while rock fishing just three weeks after Ms Vickers recommended lifejackets be made compulsory.

In August last year, WA’s peak body for recreational fishing Recfishwest expressed its opposition to calls for compulsory lifejackets at rock-fishing black spots.

Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland said yesterday it was a complex issue.

“Given the wide varieties of rock fishing locations in WA, from boat harbour rock walls to cliffside platforms like Steep Point, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution that will make all rock fishing safe,” he said.

“For this reason, mandating the wearing of lifejackets while fishing from rocks Statewide is problematic and we do not support Statewide legislation.”

He said education offered greater long-term safety outcomes than legislation.

But Mr Johns said education was not an effective strategy.

“Education over legislation is clearly not working,” he said.

“Recfishwest are educating their members to make better choices but they still do it. It’s not working and it never worked.”

Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly said the community had not reached a consensus on lifejackets.

“I appreciate the terrible impact that these circumstances can have on first responders. I understand their calls for lifejackets to be made compulsory,” Mr Kelly said.

“We are currently trialling compulsory lifejackets at Salmon Holes to work through some of the issues and this will hopefully lead to a consensus on the effectiveness of lifejackets in these incidents.”

The State Government’s compulsory lifejacket trial at Salmon Holes started in January.

There are six locations around Albany where fishers can borrow a lifejacket for free.

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