|The mulloway is found in Africa, Madagascar and along the southern coastline of Australia from Shark Bay in Western Australia to north of Brisbane in Queensland.
It is the most southern species belonging to the Scinaenid Family with many species present in the north of Australia. The most notable species is the ‘black jew’, which is often confused with the mulloway but distinguishable by the slightly stouter body, smaller more compact scales, firmer texture and darker appearance. Also known as butterfish and jewies, they are perhaps the most prized sporting fish that is in ready reach of the everyday angler.
Mulloway is a fish of many names and is the preferred name in South Australia. It is the aboriginal name for ‘the greatest one’. Mulloway are indeed one of our greatest scalefish and are easily distinguished from other fish through their metallic silver / bronze sheen, shield like scales and concave (outward fanning) tail. They grow to a large size, with fish up to 30kg common and some records of fish up to 40kg. They have a quite distinctive smell and some ‘old salts’ claim to be able to ‘smell’ schools of mulloway from the beach. Mulloway are equipped with elaborate swim bladders which are able to resonate and emit a ‘croaking’ noise, which can often be heard from the sides of the boats on a quiet night when fish are many metres below. This characteristic is common to the Sciaenid family of fishes, collectively known as drums or croakers for the reasons described.
Mulloway also contain enlarged otoliths or ‘ear bones’ which are often collected for jewellery items. This attribute has led eastern Staters in particular to refer to them as ‘jewies’ or jew fish (after ‘jewel fish’). Another name used to describe mulloway is ‘butterfish’ which relates to the yellow butter-like lather that mulloway apparently produce on the surface of the seawater during spawning.
Everywhere from estuaries to ocean beaches, the gulfs and offshore reefs. Some have even been taken from the fresh water of Lake Alexandrina and in fact were the basis of a large fishery there before the barrages were constructed in 1940.
They are most abundant in the Coorong Lagoon, which is by far the most important nursery area for this species. Larger fish are taken most commonly off of the ocean beaches adjacent to the Coorong and off of the beaches of the Great Australian Bight. They are also seasonally abundant in the Port River estuaries. Although it is difficult to generalise, mulloway tend to spend their first four years or so in the estuaries and then move to marine waters for the remaining years. The ocean beaches during summer and the Port River during winter is the renowned ‘hot spots’ for large mulloway.
Mulloway generally spawn in marine waters just outside of the surf zone and the egg larval development occurs at sea, with juveniles settling in estuarine nursery areas until a length of 46cm is reached, in about three to four years. A 10kg mulloway is likely to be about six to seven years of age. They are thought to live for a maximum of about 30 years.
Mulloway are believed to reach sexual maturity at a length of about 75cm, although this has not been verified for Australian waters.
Mulloway are opportunistic predators, feeding on a variety of fish, molluscs and crustaceans. The size of prey items increases with the size of the fish (there is a message for the anglers here!). Large fish have been observed though, with large numbers euphausides, which are small shrimp like crustaceans which often ‘swarm’ in the water column just beyond the surf zone. Other food items include sand crabs (especially on surf beaches), small fish such as mullet, and whatever organisms are abundant in the locality.
A regular flow of water out of the Murray Mouth is considered important to ensure sufficient spawning to maintain recruitment. The diminished flow of the River Murray water has led to a decline in the abundance of mulloway.
There is a small commercial fishery for mulloway, mostly restricted to the Coorong Lagoon where nets are used to take fish between about 46cm and 70cm in length. The mulloway is an important supplement to the income of the commercial fishers in the region who number about 40.
Most anglers dream of catching a large mulloway. It is one of the few large sport fish available in South Australian water. Mulloway is an important target species for many South Australians, particularly shore based anglers. Surf fishing along the ocean beaches adjacent to the Coorong is especially popular, as is fishing in the Coorong / Murray Mouth area, Port River and west coast beaches.
Both spinners and baits are used to take mulloway, with live bait the best alternative.