Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

Centropristis striata


    Sea Bass, Blackfish, Rock Bass, Black Bass, Tallywag


    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to the west coast of Florida



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Scup and Black Sea Bass

Scup and black sea bass hovering around a reef ledge.


A relative of grouper, the slightly delicate, mild-tasting black sea bass is a popular commercial and recreational species along the East Coast. There are two separate stocks of black sea bass in the Atlantic, divided at approximately Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Declared overfished in 2000, the Mid-Atlantic stock (north of Cape Hatteras) has recovered and is now rebuilt, thanks to improved reproduction and growth rates and strict regulations that reduced fishing pressure on the stock.

In 2005, scientists found that the South Atlantic stock (south of Cape Hatteras) was below target population levels (overfished) and fishing rates were too high (overfishing). Managers implemented a rebuilding plan (a management strategy designed to allow a stock to recover within a specific period of time) for this stock in 2006. Under this plan, black sea bass has recovered and is now rebuilt. There continues to be  a strict limit on how much black sea bass can be caught in both the commercial and recreational fisheries. When the commercial limit is met, all harvest of the fish is restricted and purchase and sale of the fish is prohibited. When the recreational limit is projected to be met, the recreational sector is closed.

Looking Ahead

Catch limits work! In May of this year, NOAA scientists declared the southern stock of black sea bass successfully rebuilt. The short seasons and low catch limits that fishermen have endured in recent years are about to pay off—the catch limit for this popular fish will more than double this fall. The annual catch limit in 2012 was 847,000 pounds. It will increase to 1,814,000 pounds for the 2013-2016 fishing years.



Black sea bass are found along the U.S. East Coast from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico. They prefer structured habitats such as reefs, wrecks, or oyster beds in temperate and subtropical waters. In the Mid-Atlantic (north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina), black sea bass migrate seasonally as water temperature changes. They generally migrate to inshore coastal areas and bays in the spring and offshore in the fall. In the South Atlantic, black sea bass do not tend to migrate as far.

The trawl fishery operates offshore, and researchers don't know the extent of black sea bass habitat in this area. Trawling has been banned in the South Atlantic since 1989 to prevent impacts to habitat. New measures were implemented in 2012 in the South Atlantic requiring fishermen to bring pots to shore at the end of each trip, rather than leaving them in the water for prolonged periods. This measure is expected to reduce potential impacts to habitat.



Black sea bass grow slowly, up to 2 feet and 9 pounds. They’re able to reproduce when they reach 1 to 3 years old. Black sea bass are "protogynous hermaphrodites"—most black sea bass start out as females, and as they mature and grow, they become males. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens, but one hypothesis suggests the relative scarcity of males in a spawning group may be the stimulus for a female to switch sex.

Black sea bass spawn in coastal areas from January through July. During spawning season, male black sea bass turn bright blue and develop a pronounced blue hump on their heads. They gather a group of females to mate with and aggressively defend their territory. Depending on their size, females can produce between 30,000 and 500,000 eggs in a spawning season. Females can live up to 8 years; males live up to 12.

Black sea bass often eat whatever prey is available, but they especially like crabs, shrimp, worms, small fish, and clams. Little skate, spiny dogfish, monkfish, spotted hake, and summer flounder all feed on black sea bass.



Large black sea bass are black; smaller ones are more of a dusky brown. The belly is slightly paler than the sides. The fins are dark with dusky spots, and the dorsal fin is marked with a series of white spots and bands. During spawning, dominant males turn bright blue and have a blue hump on their heads.



In the Mid-Atlantic, scientists at the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct bottom trawl surveys to estimate the abundance of black sea bass and other species.

In the South Atlantic, scientists, managers, and stakeholders assess the status of these stocks through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process.



Based on a new stock assessment in 2012 that utilized spawning stock biomass (the amount of fish in the population capable of reproducing), scientists estimate the Mid-Atlantic population is above its target level. Based on a new stock assessment in 2013, scientists estimate the South Atlantic population is also above its target level, and the stock has fully rebuilt. Based on these assessments, we no longer list these stocks as overfished or subject to overfishing. Although both stocks of black sea bass have been assessed, the biology of this species is not well known and data is lacking, resulting in stock assessments that have a high degree of uncertainty.



Under the Mid-Atlantic Research Set-Aside Program, a small percentage of the allowed black sea bass harvest is set aside each year to fund black sea bass and habitat research and surveys to inform future management decisions. Participating fishing vessels use the proceeds of their harvest to fund this research. Projects conducted include gear research to minimize bycatch of undersized black sea bass and research to supplement stock assessment data.

NOAA Fisheries and state fishery agencies have collaborated with commercial and recreational fishermen to examine the population size, exploitation rate, and seasonal movements of the northern Atlantic coast black sea bass by participating in the Cooperative Black Sea Bass Tagging Project. Reporting tagged fish to the project helps contribute to our understanding of this species.

Demand for this tasty fish in seafood and sushi markets has grown much faster than the supply from wild fisheries. In an attempt to meet this high demand, NOAA researchers evaluated the potential of black sea bass for commercial aquaculture and found promising results—black sea bass can be grown from larvae to adults in recirculating aquaculture systems, eating a diet of commercial pellet feeds. They recommend that future aquaculture research efforts focus on understanding the factors that control growth—investigating optimal culture temperatures, lighting conditions, reproductive physiology, and the nutritional requirements of various life stages of black sea bass.


Harvesting Black Sea Bass

In the Mid-Atlantic, fisheries for black sea bass change seasonally with the species' seasonal migrations—when they're inshore, commercial fishermen catch them primarily with fish pots (both baited and unbaited) and handlines. Recreational fishermen also fish for black sea bass when they're inshore. Once they move offshore in the winter, they're caught in the trawl fishery that primarily targets summer flounder, scup, and longfin squid. Handline and pot fisheries in the southern areas sometimes still operate during this offshore period.

In the South Atlantic, commercial fishermen harvest black sea bass with pots and sometimes handlines. Trawling has been banned in the South Atlantic since 1989.



Along the East Coast, black sea bass are divided into two stocks for management purposes. The stock north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, migrates seasonally, while the southern stock doesn't migrate as much.

Who's in charge? North of Cape Hatteras: Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; south of Cape Hatteras: South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The councils and Commission develop fishery regulations for black sea bass, and NOAA Fisheries implements and enforces these regulations.

Current management: Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (fisheries north of Cape Hatteras)

  • Annual coastwide quota divided between the commercial and recreational fisheries; the commercial quota is further divided among the states based on historical harvests.
  • Specific management measures for the commercial fishery are set by each state; they include minimum size limits, minimum mesh requirements for trawls, a moratorium on entry into the fishery, and closed seasons.

South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan (fisheries south of Cape Hatteras)

  • Commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest black sea bass, and a limit on the number of permits controls participation in the fishery.
  • Annual commercial harvest quota; commercial fishing for black sea bass is prohibited when the quota is projected to be met. If annual catch exceeds the limit, the overage is taken out of the following year's quota.
  • Limit on how much commercial fishermen can harvest per fishing trip.
  • Minimum size limit.
  • Gear restrictions, including a minimum size for mesh on black sea bass pots, to reduce catch of undersized black sea bass.
  • Commercial fishermen must have an endorsement to fish pots to harvest black sea bass. The mesh on the pots must be large enough to allow undersized black sea bass to escape. Pots must also have escape vents and escape panels with degradable fasteners. Fishermen are restricted to fishing only 35 pots per trip, and they must be bring the pots back to shore at the end of each trip to reduce bycatch and impacts to habitat and protected species. Pots are only allowed north of Cape Canaveral, Florida, to prevent adverse impacts on live-bottom habitat.

Annual Harvest

In the Mid-Atlantic, the commercial harvest has remained relatively steady since the 1970s, averaging around 1,400 metric tons. In the past decade, recreational fisheries have accounted for at least half of total harvest by weight, averaging 1,600 metric tons annually. However, in 2012, commercial landings totaled only 789 metric tons and recreational landings totaled 1,497 metric tons, which was significantly above the recreational harvest limit. The commercial fishery is controlled in real time, so once the quota is met they shut down.

In the South Atlantic, commercial and recreational fisheries contribute fairly equally to the total black sea bass harvest. In the 2012 fishing year, commercial landings in the South Atlantic were 382,421 pounds, and recreational landings were 510,175 pounds. With the South Atlantic stock now rebuilt, the annual catch limit more than doubled in fall 2013.



Black sea bass, a small, plump fish related to grouper, is one of the most important commercial bass species. In 2012, the 1.74 million pounds of black sea bass landings in the Mid-Atlantic were valued at approximately $5.7 million. In 2012, the landings in the South Atlantic were valued at $787,788. The United States is the only source for this fish.



In the Mid-Atlantic, the recreational fishery has a minimum fish size, bag limit, and seasonal measures, established for federal waters as well as by each state, to ensure that the recreational harvest limit is not exceeded. The recreational fishery is evaluated after the season, and management measures (quota, bag, size, and/or season) are adjusted as needed in the following year.

In the South Atlantic, regulations for the recreational fishery include a minimum size limit, fishing season, and daily and yearly catch limits, and are established for federal waters as well as by each state. There is a limit on annual recreational harvest, and recreational harvest is prohibited when the limit is met. If annual catch exceeds the limit, the overage is taken off the following year’s limit. Recreational fishermen use handlines to catch black sea bass.



Black sea bass is often confused with striped bass or tautog, which is also called blackfish. Black sea bass has a mild, fresh, somewhat delicate flavor and a tender but firm texture. Uncooked flesh should be sparkling white and translucent. The meat is snow white when cooked. Black sea bass is one of the best small fish to bake or grill whole, but be careful handling whole fish - a jab from the dorsal-fin spines can be very painful. (Seafood Business, 2011)



Generally year-round, but varies by state



Black sea bass is a good low-fat source of protein and magnesium.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 97
Protein 18.43 g
Fat, total 2 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.511 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 41 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 68 mg

Black Sea Bass Table of Nutrition