- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
The jewfish is the largest of the grouper/sea bass family. It has a lumbering swim style, especially the larger ones. The body is yellowish brown, covered with blackish spots and dark brown splotches, including on the head and fins; these are more prominent on younger specimens. Older specimens are darker overall. Irregular dark bands run vertically along the sides of the fish. The body type is typical of other grouper: stout, deep and tapering at each end. The first dorsal fin, with 11 spines, is connected to the larger second dorsal fin, with 15 to 16 rays. This differentiates it from the giant sea bass, which has only 10 dorsal rays. The anal fin has three spines and eight rays. The opercle has three flat spines, the middle one the largest. Other distinguishing features include very small eyes, a rounded tail fin, and large, rounded pectoral fins. The number of dorsal spines can differentiate jewfish smaller than 1.5 feet in length from the spotted cabrilla; the jewfish has 11, the spotted cabrilla 10.
The jewfish is found in the western Atlantic from Florida to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and in the eastern Atlantic from Senegal to the Congo. In the eastern Pacific, they occur from the Gulf of California to Peru.
Preferring mostly shallow marine environments, jewfish live under ledges not far from shore, in estuaries, bays and harbors, mangrove areas, and coral reefs. Adults frequent dock and bridge pilings and shipwrecks, where they take refuge. Adult jewfish typically reside in waters ranging from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. They can be found at depths up to 325 feet, but usually stay between depths of 7 and 180 feet.
Jewfish spawn over reefs and wrecks inshore during the summer months. They do not migrate. Eggs are scattered in the open water and substratum, and are not guarded. Spawning generally takes place at depths between 120 and 150 feet, with a water temperature between 77 and 79 degrees F.
Jewfish are carnivores and opportunistic predators they hide in structure or cover until a food item nears, at which point they dart out to engulf the prey, and then they retreat back to their den. Jewfish eat large prey, preferring crustaceans (especially spiny lobsters) but also eating octopus, turtles, fish and stingray. They feed mostly at night.
The jewfish is difficult to land because of its enormous weight and strength and its habit of anchoring itself in a hole, between rocks or in some structure when hooked. Many specimens are simply too big to land without extremely heavy tackle and the use of fighting equipment.
Most jewfish are caught from boats with live or dead bait, though live bait is preferred. If fishing over a wreck, anchor 100 feet away and lure the jewfish away from the wreck by fishing for snapper, then switch outfits for the jewfish. This is so the jewfish can't take the bait back to the wreck and anchor itself there. Otherwise, offshore reefs are good locations. Here, too, the fish must be pulled away from rocks and crevices quickly to prevent anchoring.
Because of its enormous size, the jewfish was once harvested as a trophy fish as well as for commercial sale. It was easily taken from shore or a bridge with chains and heavy ropes, and by divers with spears. Eventually it was over-harvested, and is now listed as endangered. Harvesting the fish is prohibited in United States waters.
- Jewfish will bump and occasionally try to swallow divers who approach their hideaway.
- Jewfish meat is considered to be of excellent quality. It is finely grained, white, and has a strong flavor. During World War II it was salted, dried and sold as imported salt cod in the West Indies.