A FISHING club based in Lake Macquarie has cancelled its annual fishing trip to South West Rocks as it says the current condition of the Macleay River bar is too dangerous.
Charlestown Anglers Inc secretary, Jason Skinner, says the club, which has more than 40 members, holds fishing trips to South West Rocks every year.
During the club’s most recent trip on the weekend of February 19-21, Mr Skinner said the crossing was “extremely dangerous” and “shallower” than on previous trips.
“One of our boats witnessed and rescued four people from the water after the boat they were travelling in capsized while crossing the bar on Friday, February 19,” he said.
“We have also since heard of the very unfortunate loss of a life on the bar on February 24.”
Mr Skinner said while there are other options for boaties to venture to open waters off SWR such as Back Creek and the Gaol boat ramp, known as Laggers Point, they too were dangerous.
“The Back Creek crossing is extremely shallow and dangerous on a high tide,” he said.
“The Gaol ramp does offer the safest option, but is only suitable for smaller boats and offers limited parking. “We have heard recent news of cars with boat trailers being fined while parking at this ramp for ‘obstructing traffic’.
This should be a clear indication the parking facilities are not up to a suitable standard for this boat ramp.”
Mr Skinner said he and the rest of the club would like to see something done to improve the safety of the bar and until something is, the club will not return to the area for fishing events.
“Through club members witnessing the dangers first hand, Charlestown Anglers Inc and its members, have come to a unanimous decision to cancel South West Rocks as a club destination,” he said.- Charlestown Anglers Inc secretary, Jason Skinner
“This will only change when the option of travelling to open waters off SWR poses less risk to one’s life and boat.
“From our club trip alone, this will have a negative impact on the local community such as fishing charters, bait and tackle outlets, food retailers, accommodation, fuel providers and local recreation clubs.
“The common saying comes back, ‘no fish is worth dying for’. “We would like to see pressure applied to the appropriate parties for funding, to provide fishermen and the boating community a safer passage to the open waters off South West Rocks.”
Mr Skinner has put his concerns in writing, which he has forwarded to Kempsey Shire Council and to the NSW Minister for Roads and Transport, Duncan Gay.
A Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) spokesperson said the RMS was aware that the recent shallowing and narrowing of the navigation channel across the Macleay River entrance has made it unsafe for boaters to access the channel.
“The navigation leads and lights were decommissioned because the channel was no longer guaranteed to be a safe passageway,” the spokesperson said.
“In November last year Roads and Maritime issued a warning to vessel operators to advise access to the channel was restricted. “Boating Safety Officers continue to monitor the area and this warning will remain in place until the channel is deemed safe to navigate again.
“The Department of Primary Industries is responsible for dredging to maintain navigation access to coastal harbours and river entrances, including at the Macleay River bar crossing at South West Rocks.
“In 2014, the NSW Government committed $10 million over four years for ‘Dredging of Priority Waterways on the North Coast of NSW’.”
A spokesperson said the DPI is responsible for dredging to maintain navigation access to governmentowned maritime infrastructure i.e. coastal harbours and river entrances where breakwaters have been constructed to assist in providing stable navigation conditions for boating access.
“The department dredges river entrances rather than ocean bars such as at South West Rocks, and has no current plans to dredge in the locality,” they said.
“Water depths at river entrances along the coast of NSW are highly dynamic due to a range of factors including ocean, estuarine and climatic conditions.
“Dredging of coastal bars generally requires the work to be undertaken by an ocean-going dredge with the dredged sand placed in the near shore zone to the north of the entrance.”
Robert Scott, the director of infrastructure services at Kempsey Shire Council, said the council is also aware of the need to improve safety for those crossing the bar at South West Rocks. “Unfortunately it is a complex issue, involving multiple agencies where there is no short term fix.
Dredging is not generally the best environmental or cost effective solution in a dynamic coastal system such as South West Rocks,” he said.
“The RMS has recently commissioned a study of the potential options for improving the access at Back Creek, which would provide an alternative to the main bar.
“The council has also been part of a working party which has been investigating the ongoing operation of the Laggers Point boat ramp and seeking funding to improve this area.
“Any effective solution will take all levels of government working together for long term improvements.” Mr Scott said the condition of the bar was largely driven by the weather.
“It’s such a dynamic system out there and at the end of the day its up to each individual to determine whether or not to use it.”