It has not been an easy haul to get back out to sea again. Fisheries are in limbo at the moment, as new permits are still to be issued in the hake longline fishery. That means 'in' with some new rights-holders and skippers, and 'out' with some old guys.
At the same time, prices (driven by the market = that's you) have dropped and this encourages fishers to either stop fishing and carry out maintenance on their vessels or target another lucrative species, such as tuna, a species known to migrate inshore during this time of the year.
So some of the same hake vessels that I go out on, get a make-over and turn into a tuna fishing vessel (using the poling method) that target yellow-fin tuna for the local market.
Apparently the hake fishing is also quite bad this time of year, and only gets better during the winter period - good for them but bad for seabirds that over-winter here for food.
However, I have much hake longline data collected over the years that is being analysed, and certain questions need to be answered pronto, unfortunately meaning that I need to get out to sea!
Harbour visits were plenty; it was a time where I could target many fishermen: to hand out tori lines, and communicate with them about the seabird bycatch issue and the state of their fishery!
Nonetheless, a lot has been a happening on the awareness and education front, with our local fishermen and surf chicks.
Yes, you heard that correctly, a sport event took place here over the weekend, that brought like-minded marine ladies together to surf competitively (and learn how to) and to know more about the Save the Albatross Campaign.
The 'Billabong Girls Get Out There Surf Series' had us ATF ladies, Sam and I, sporting our stuffed albatrosses, tori lines, brochures, and sparkly beach personalities parading around the competition tents chatting to the attendees.
It's great that so many people are hearing about the campaign, particularly as these crowds use the ocean and its resources, and the plight of albatrosses was close to their hearts. Also, aquatic sports competitions and marine conservation go hand in hand these days.
Our fellow women out there also find the whole concept of female Albatross Task Force members as brave, determined and adventurous - maybe the next famous aquatic sport idol!
My God... let me tell you that this is not an easy job... it really is not, but it must be done with courage, persistence and with good heart.
I persist with the local fishermen and captains in order to instruct them why they should adopt the tori lines and the other mitigation measures. It is hard to convince them that if they reduce capturing seabirds, they will catch more fish and so generate more income for all of them and their families.
But as I said, it's hard and that's why my work on the ATF Brazil has been very busy on the harbour, giving talks, explaining the problem and addressing the by-catch of seabirds to fishermen and fishing industry owners.
The fact is that they all know what is happening on high sea... They all know that lots of albatrosses and other seabirds die on a daily basis on hooks ... But they don't care really...
Many captains say that they will only put the tori line when an official law from the Brazilian government will oblige them to mount the tori lines. Here, in southern Brazil, in Itajaí, where the biggest industrial fishing centre is located, there are reports about longline boats capturing about 40 to 50 albatrosses on a SINGLE fishing set!!!!!!
It's appalling!!! These numbers are brutal... and that's why we at Projeto Albatroz are working so much and so worried about this cause!
I believe that if all captains would follow Captain Zé, from Macedo I vessel, this problem could be resolved. Before he adopted the tori line, his vessel was capturing an average of 70 seabirds per fishing set.
After talks with Tatiana Neves, Projeto Albatroz general coordinator, about the tori line, he created his own tori and since 2001 he started using all the mitigation measures.
He is proud that in 2006 he just captured accidentally only five albatrosses! What an achievement!! In 2007, he wants to catch zero. We hope he can achieve that task!
I have been creating lots of activities to make fishermen, captains, fishing business owners and the public really aware of what is happening.
For that, I have organised lots of workshops for fishermen, produced and showed diverse videos recorded from the fishermen that already use the mitigation measures to the ones that don't use the measures, organised a stand dedicated to the problem in a very important nautical exhibition, where business fishing owners come together and, presently just managed to get some time in the most-viewed and listened TV and radio stations to produce two programmes to be broadcasted to the local fishing community,
Ah!! and I have managed to get three captains to adopt the tori line in their boats! I will mount these toris very soon!
The trawler trip was a close-run thing. We had returned with just a day to spare before my flight home. But I've got one last mission before I go.
On the last morning, I pick Peter Ryan up at 4.30 am, and we head east past Stellenbosch to Sir Lowry's Pass. Here we walk up a steep bluff and find Cape rockjumpers, one of the Western Cape's star birds, resplendent in dark burgundy back and plum red chest.
So starts a 250 km thrash around some wonderful areas, and by the time we return to Cape Town I've seen another 25 species, including the wonderfully elusive Victorin's warbler (we had one four feet in front of us and still never got a clear view!).
With just a few hours to spare, I pack my bags and head for the airport for the long overnight flight home.
On the sixth day, Captain Randy announces that we will trawl until dusk, and then head for home. Barry and I continue monitoring from the catwalk.
We've seen four species of albatross (shy, black-browed, Indian and Atlantic yellow-nosed), 11 species of petrel (white-chinned, spectacled, and flesh-footed petrels, sooty, Manx, Cory's and great shearwaters, European and Wilson's storm petrels, southern and northern giant petrels), four species of skua (pomarine, parasitic, long-tailed and subantarctic), plus Sabine's gulls, terns and Cape gannets.
I had a distant glimpse of what I thought was a northern royal albatross, one of the 'biggies', but it never came close enough to make out for sure.
As dusk falls, the crew get excited as the last net is hawled, and we turn for home. It is difficult to sleep with all the noise on board, as the crew set about thoroughly cleaning the boat and stowing everything away. The chief engineer pokes his head around the door at 2 am, and as I'm still awake, tells me we have rounded Cape Point.
I emerge on deck to watch the lights of Cape Town get closer. Table Mountain is dimly lit in moonlight. Chief then gives me a guided tour of his pride and joy, the 16-cylinder, 1,500 horsepower diesel engine that has taken as so far. The engine room is huge, a mass of machinery, hot, oily and very, very noisy.
We finally dock at 4 am, and emerge onto dry land for the first time in a week. Funny, but everything is swaying, and I can hardly keep my feet!
Barry and I spend as much time on deck as possible. Our main work is monitoring interactions between seabirds and the two warp cables at the stern. To do this, we sit for hours on end on the 'catwalk', a raised metal gantry above the stern of the boat.
Barry's work has shown that it is collisions with these two thick steel cables that is causing problems. Seabirds are attracted to the discards from the trawler, and as they fly in around the stern of the vessel, some collide with the warps, because they simply do not see them in time. The smaller sooties don't seem to collide much, the white-chins more often, but both seem reasonably robust.
But it is the albatrosses that are more prone to drowning or fatal injury. When feeding, they often sit with wings raised or flap around, and with the vessel moving forward or in a heavy swell, the warp cable can instantly dunk an unsuspecting bird, sending it down rapidly into the depths.
Sometimes the birds pop up many yards further astern, but often they do not. We see one shy caught in such a way, the body brought up later on the warp cable onto the deck in a broken and bloody mess. Those that survive often have broken wings, meaning a slow lingering starving death.
Observations made over several years have shown the potential toll that these collisions may be having on albatrosses. Numbers are lower in summer when more birds are at their breeding grounds, much higher in winter, and based on the numbers of trawlers known to fish in southern African waters, an estimated 18,000 seabirds may be being killed each year, the majority of them albatrosses.
Tori (the Japanese word for bird scaring) lines, modified from those now being used on longliners, are beginning to provide an effective solution on trawlers too. They are simple and cheap to make, costing as little as R300 (about £25).
A large orange traffic cone is tied to a length of rope, some 50 metres long, onto which loops of bright yellow garden hose are tied. The lines are attached above and outside the warps, the cone keeps the line taught, so that the lengths of hose touch the water, providing a 'curtain' that the birds can see - and avoid.
Barry's work shows they really work, reducing collisions by between 80 and 95%. I soon see just how effective they are. In the right conditions, we have two v-shaped areas of water with no birds around the two warp cables. Heavy wind, swell or currents sometimes push the tori lines away from the warps, making them less effective.
I ask Barry what measures could be introduced to make trawlers totally safe for albatrosses. 'Stop dumping discards, either completely or at least whilst shooting the nets. You can't deploy the toris until the warps have stopped feeding out, otherwise they can get entangled and just snap off. That's when birds are most vulnerable.'
For four days, we fish within sight of Cape Point some 15 miles distant. At times, we are followed by flotillas of small boats, hoping to hook some of the yellow-finned tuna that are attracted to the discards. Some days we see them, bright white flashes under the water, as they hunt small fish. We even see a few leaping from the water like dolphins.
On the Sunday night, we sail the 90 miles to Danger Point. The change in bird numbers and species is remarkable - gone are the Cape gulls, and instead of a few dozen albatrosses, we have over a thousand.
And this is summer. In winter, there are even more birds, as adults and youngsters desert the breeding islands. On Monday, the bad weather results in a European storm petrel and two white-chins colliding with the vessels. We gingerly pick each up, take photos, and release them over the side.