The black jewfish or black croaker (Protonibea diacanthus) is northern Australia’s version of the southern mulloway.
“Jewies” are found north of around Gladstone in Queensland and Exmouth in Western Australia.
The black jewfish has somewhat different habits from mulloway.
This species is caught primarily over naturals reefs, wrecks and artificial reefs, where it forms small schools.
At breeding time these schools may become huge.
The fish tend to bite at the turn of the tide.
Night fishing is often more productive.
Large tides can produce fish on slack water over natural reef, but strong currents make fishing difficult over wrecks, so smaller tides are preferred.
These fish show up in large tidal creeks and rivers, but most fishing is done by boat over wrecks and reefs and other congregation points.
Jewfish schools can often be seen on the sounder, but these fishy also loiter singly or as small groups inside structure where sonar can’t detect them.
Jigging works when they are biting well, but they more readily take large fresh baits of fish flesh, squid, octopus or crab.
In well managed areas black jewfish grow to 20kg+, and fish over 10kg are common.
They have a fast growth rate, reaching 60cm in two years and maturing in four years at about 90cm.
Heavy tackle is needed to get big black jewfish fish away from wrecks, with 50kg handlines or stout rods loaded with 25kg+ braid ideal.
Heavy gauge hooks should be used around wrecks, and large snapper leads may be needed to keep baits on the bottom in the north’s strongly tidal waters.
Paternoster rigs are generally used around reefs and wrecks.
Black jewfish can be distinguished from mulloway by the narrower shape of the tail peduncle, and their darker colour.
Black jewfish are highly valued in Asian countries, where they have become rare to locally extinct.
The species is common in areas that are well managed, but small populations in Australia such as a group that lived off the tip of Cape York, have been locally damaged by overfishing, and showed little sign of recovery for years after management measures were implemented.
Studies indicate that various genetic local groups of black jewfish do not mix much.
Black jewfish are highly vulnerable to decompression injury when pulled from even shallow water, and fishing should always stop when the bag limit is reached.
Off Australia’s Top End, jewfish stocks are healthy.
Read more about black jewfish.
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