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Black Sea Bass

Centropristis striata

Black sea bass

Also Known As

  • Sea bass
  • Blackfish
  • Rock bass
  • Black bass
  • Tallywag

U.S. wild-caught black sea bass is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population levels in the Mid-Atlantic. Below target levels and fishing rate promotes population growth in the South Atlantic.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gears used to harvest black sea bass have minimal impacts on habitat.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

    Generally year-round, but varies by state.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to the west coast of Florida. The United States is the only source for this species.

  • Taste

    Mild, fresh, somewhat delicate flavor.

  • Texture

    Tender but firm.

  • Color

    Uncooked meat should be sparkling white and translucent. The meat is snow white when cooked.

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission cooperatively manage the black sea bass fishery north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
  • Managed under the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan:
    • Annual catch limit divided between the commercial and recreational fisheries.
    • The commercial catch limit is further divided among the states based on historical harvests.
    • Specific management measures for the commercial fishery include:
      • Minimum size limits.
      • Minimum mesh requirements for trawls.
      • A moratorium on entry into the fishery.
      • Closed seasons.
  • NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council manage the black sea bass fishery south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
  • Managed under the South Atlantic Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan:
    • Commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest black sea bass.
    • Annual catch limits, commercial trip limits, and recreational bag and possession limits.
    • Sale and purchase restrictions applicable after a commercial quota closure.
    • Minimum size limit.
    • Accountability measures in place to ensure overfishing does not occur, or to correct for overages if catch limit is exceeded.
    • Seasonal area closures for the commercial black sea bass component of the snapper-grouper fishery.
    • Trawling has been banned in the South Atlantic since 1989 to prevent impacts to habitat.
    • Gear restrictions for fish pots:
      • Commercial fishermen must have a pot endorsement to use a black sea bass pot to harvest black sea bass.
      • Minimum mesh size to reduce catch of undersized black sea bass.
      • Pots must have escape vents and escape panels with degradable fasteners to prevent bycatch.
      • Limit on the number of pots per trip.
      • Pots must be brought 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.
      • Spatial and temporal closures to minimize entanglement risk for endangered North Atlantic Right Whales.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2018, commercial landings of black sea bass in the Mid-Atlantic totaled approximately 3.07 million pounds, and were valued at approximately $10.94 million.
    • In 2018, commercial landings of black sea bass in the South Atlantic totaled 562,800 pounds, and were valued at approximately $1.74 million.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • In the Mid-Atlantic, commercial fishermen mainly use hook-and-line gear, pots, and otter trawls to catch black sea bass. Fisheries for black sea bass change seasonally with the species’ migrations.
      • Of the gear utilized within the snapper grouper fishery, only the black sea bass pot is considered to pose an entanglement risk to marine mammals.
      • When the fish are inshore, commercial fishermen catch them primarily with fish pots (both baited and unbaited) and handlines.
      • Once the fish move offshore in the winter, they’re caught in the trawl fishery that primarily targets summer flounder, scup, and longfin squid.
    • In the South Atlantic, fishermen use pots and sometimes handlines.
      • Fish bycatch in the pot fishery is minor because the gear is often not baited (black sea bass are drawn to the structure and enter the pots without bait), and the pot mesh size is regulated to select fish at or above the minimum size limit.
  • Recreational fishery: Recreational fishermen use handlines to catch black sea bass. In 2018, recreational landings totaled more than 8.7 million pounds.
    • In the Mid-Atlantic:
      • There are size and bag limits, 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 (bag, size, and/or season) are adjusted as needed in the following year.
    • In the South Atlantic:
      • There are size limits, fishing season, and daily and yearly catch limits, 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.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2019 stock assessment, the black sea bass stock in the Mid-Atlantic is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.
  • According to the 2018 stock assessment, the black sea bass stock in the South Atlantic is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.
  • Although both stocks of black sea bass have been assessed, the biology of this species is not well known and data are lacking, resulting in stock assessments that have a high degree of uncertainty.
  • In the Mid-Atlantic, scientists at NOAA’s 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.

Location

  • Along the U.S. East Coast from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat

  • Black sea bass 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), they 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.

Physical Description

  • Black sea bass are usually black, but smaller ones are more of a dusky brown.
  • The belly is slightly paler than the sides.
  • Fins are dark with dusky spots.
  • 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.

Biology

  • Black sea bass grow slowly, up to 2 feet and 9 pounds.
  • They are able to reproduce when they reach 1 to 3 years old.
  • They 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.
  • Males 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 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.

Research

  • NOAA Fisheries and state fishery agencies have collaborated with commercial and recreational fishermen to examine the population size, exploitation rate, and seasonal movements of 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.
  • Using data from the Southeast Reef Fish Survey, NMFS researchers and partners recently identified the spawning season and several spawning locations for black sea bass along the southeastern United States. This research is described in the open access journal PLoS ONE, and was also adapted for schools in The Science Journal for Kids.
  • 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 species’ nutritional requirements at various life stages.

Last updated: 03/20/2020