Crystal clear waters, crisp white sand, and cool shady palm trees are not the first thing that springs to mind when on a deep-sea fishing trawler. But we were in Honolulu, the proverbial paradise we see on TV, “where everything is hunky dory”. That is how my skipper, Manfred, described the fishing grounds we were trawling at. A fishing paradise in the Atlantic, “we always catch nice fish here, big hake. They are beautiful, like Honolulu” said Manfred, who saw my interest in the subject. He explained that before the Grid system (which demarcates South Africa’s EEZ into quadrates) fishermen used the DECCA system – an old school way of naming the location of the fishing grounds. Each fishing ground under the DECCA system has a unique  code, but colourful nicknames, such as our Honolulu, are a much more interesting alternative to the conventional ‘Grid 462’ we use today. Manfred went on to tell me about a fishing ground that was unnamed. A few years ago, the captains were talking about this unnamed fishing ground, and decided on ‘Groovy’ as one skipper was drinking a Groovy soft drink at the time. (Captains in the same vicinity always chat to each other over the radio, and we can follow some interesting chatter while in the Bridge). Other names are ‘Christmas Island’, due to the great fishing around Christmas, and ‘Long Island’, and it is surrounded by underwater rocks, looking like an underwater island.

Below: The real Honolulu!

These little anecdotes were entertaining, and I was very keen to see if the haul would hold up to this ‘Honolulu’ reputation. Sitting on top of the Bridge of this side-haul trawler, I was conducting my seabird observations. One of my favourite moments during observations is waiting for the net (codend) to reach the surface. The net trails past the stern and is being slowly reeled in, while the codend filled with fish is still underwater. Firstly, if there are Cape Gannets, they will start diving with the approach of the codend near the surface. Then the water turns a beautiful turquoise-blue, bubbles, and voilà – a bag of fish erupts from the ocean.

Below: The cod end being brought up on deck. Photo by Chrissie Madden

The birds go crazy and start fighting over the catch. We reeled in the haul, and these were beautiful, large hake. Welcome to Honolulu! I ran to the skipper and said in excitement “We’re in Honolulu!” and he laughed and admired the catch with a content smile. A few days later after moving around a few fishing grounds, we had lovely fish again and I knew we were fishing in Honolulu.

Below: Albatross flock around the stern of the vessel as the catch is landed. Photo by Chrissie Madden

I was very impressed with the fish, great quality and excellent size. This vessel was a much smaller trawler than I’m used to (and hence unstable in bad weather) – on the plus side I was very close to the seabirds, as they were almost eye level to the boat! I used this opportunity to chat about the birds with the crew, and showed Manfred the seabird ID sheet. He pointed to the Giant Petrel and said “This one. When he comes, you know there will be good fish. He flies from far”. Another interesting anecdote I consciously kept an eye on. I do know that Giant Petrels have an excellent sense of smell, and like most seabirds, travel vast distances in search of food. Since the skipper told me that, each time I see a Giant Petrel I make a mental note to check the size of the haul – and until now I have not been disappointed.

Below: A Giant petrel forages on discards. Photo by Chrissie Madden