Illawarra rock fishers are divided over whether mandatory lifejackets would improve the safety of their sport and reduce the number of lives lost.
The idea that penalties should apply for rock fishers caught not wearing lifejackets has been put forward as a key point in a recent NSW Emergency Services discussion paper.
The paper, which is open to public submissions until September 30, notes Marine Area Command statistics showing eight people who drowned while rock fishing in NSW between January 1 and August 31, 2012, were not wearing lifejackets, and one person who drowned was wearing a non-standard lifejacket.
During the 2011-12 financial year, 12 people drowned while rock fishing in NSW waters, while eight drowned between July 1, 2012, and May 14 this year.
Campbelltown resident Sam Sassine catches salmon and kingfish at Honeycomb Rocks, Port Kembla, which in 2009 was ranked as the fifth most deadly place for rock fishing in the country. That year, two men drowned while fishing off the rocks.
Mr Sassine said it was unlikely lifejackets would do much for fishermen who were putting themselves at unnecessary risk by going out in huge swells.
"The only fishermen who go in the water are the ones who go out in three to four-metre swell," he said.
"You've got to check the swell - I've taken my son out since he was 2½ and he knows where to step.
"You've got to read the water."
Mr Sassine said he had witnessed several close calls and said fishers who drowned tended to be inexperienced "city folk".
But the Emergency Services discussion paper rejected the idea that people of Asian descent were more likely to be involved in rock fishing disasters, noting: "statistics indicate people with an English-speaking background who can swim are just as likely to drown as any other".
Of the nine people who drowned between January 1 and August 31, 2012, four were described as Caucasian, four as Asian and one as Middle Eastern.
Yesterday, Vo Ngoc Chau was chasing squid at Honeycomb Rocks and said he saw no problem with introducing mandatory requirements for rock fishers to wear lifejackets.
"It wouldn't bother me," he said. "I think they should because every year ... people are pulled out of the water."