Why abalone is the most dangerous fish in Australia

If you’re a fan of abalone, you’re probably aware that every season, many anglers gets hurt fishing for them in rough conditions.

During only 5 hours of abalone fishing from 2016 to 2017 in WA, Surf Life Saving Western Australia (SLSWA) conducted 991 preventative actions and 49 rescues. (Source here.)

This year alone, two men in Melbourne drowned while fishing for abalone at separate beaches.

So, why is abalone fishing such a dangerous sport? And how can anglers reduce their risk in the water? We’ve taken time out to address this important question.

New laws to save lives

The WA Government made moves to change abalone season so it ran over summer, after multiple deaths in the past 5 years.

Old regulations allowed anglers to fish for 5 hours per year, between November and March, from Moore River to Busselton (between 7am and 8am).

The period between November and March is known for having poorer conditions, with increased risks for anglers.

On top of this, the small window of time available for fishing abalone creates a sense of urgency, which means anglers are more likely to make poor choices about heading out in rough surf.

As a result, the WA Government has changed the abalone season. (Although it is still only open for a short period of time, to ensure sustainability.)

Dates for Abalone fishing in Australia

The West Coast abalone zone will be open from December for four days, from 7 to 8am. The dates in question are:

  • Saturday 9 December
  • Saturday 13 January
  • Saturday 3 February
  • Saturday 17 February

These new dates reflect periods when more reasonable weather conditions are likely, although the most recent abalone time slot in January saw poor conditions and multiple rescues.

Minister for Fisheries Dave Kelly was quoted as saying to WA Today:

“This year the abalone fishing season along Perth’s coast will be changed in an effort to prevent any more deaths. Importantly from now on if poor weather conditions are forecast, we will close the fishery – we won’t put fishers or SLSWA volunteers’ lives at risk.”

“The aim of moving to Saturday fishing days in summer is to reduce the potential of encountering bad weather, which puts fishers’ lives at risk.”

For abalone fishing dates all around Australia head here.

How to stay safe

If you’re fishing for abalone, and you have a license (head to your local fisheries website to see where you can secure one), please take care.

We recommend always following these safety guidelines:

  • Always go out with a buddy who knows how to handle themselves in the water.
  • Always tell a third person where you are going to fish and what time you will be out of the water. Tell them you will check in when you are done. That way if you don’t, they can contact you to make sure you’re okay.
  • Be smart in the water. If you’re not a strong swimmer, don’t go out in rough conditions.
  • Get your swimming fitness up, so you feel confident in the water. Join a local ocean swimming group, which is great fun and will boost your abalone fishing capabilities. Yes, better swimming equals more abalone.
  • Even seemingly calm waters can hide rips and strong currents, so don’t underestimate the water. Ever.
  • Have the right gear, including gloves, reef shoes, a mesh bag to store your abalone, a proper abalone tool and a long sleeve wet suit. Fiddling with sharp knives and loose buckets will take your eye off the surf, which is unpredictable.
  • No abalone is worth your life. If conditions look bad, wait until the next opening in the season.

Is your boat covered?

We help anglers all over Australia with marine insurance for large and small fishing boats, as well as vessels and gear for business, or pleasure.

Contact our marine underwriters for a free quote, and stay safe out there in the water.

Alex Pare, WA's only female abalone diver