Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass
Centropristis striata
(A.K.A. - Black will, Sea bass)

Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • Black sea bass are members of the Family Serranidae or true sea basses and groupers.
  • They are typically large-mouthed, bottom dwellers that are bluish black in color with light spots that form longitudinal stripes.
  • Their scales are relatively large and their dorsal fin is continuous, but notched with 10 slender spines.


  • Black sea bass are reported to grow to a maximum of 24-25 inches in length and live 15-20 years.


  • They range from Maine to the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Along the Atlantic coast, black sea bass are divided into two stocks for management purposes.
  • The northern stock resides north of Cape Hatteras and is seasonally migratory.
  • The southern stock resides south of the Cape and is not migratory.


  • Adult black sea bass are considered to be a temperate reef fish.
  • They are typically bottom dwelling marine fishes and are most often found on rocky bottoms near reefs, wrecks, oyster bars, pilings, or jetties.
  • They are predators, relying on their large mouths and swift movements to capture their prey.
  • Adults migrate inshore and northward as water temperatures increase in the spring.
  • They return to coastal and ocean waters, moving southward and offshore in the fall as water temperatures drop.
  • As juveniles, they typically move inshore to the lower Chesapeake Bay during April and remain until December.
  • They have been captured as far north as the mouth of the Chester River. However, juvenile fish prefer saline waters and are most prevalent in salinities above 18ppt.
  • Black sea bass are bottom dwellers and find shelter in areas with structure. Here, they feed primarily on crustaceans such as shrimp, amphipods, and isopods.

Food Preference:

  • Black sea bass typically feed on crabs, mussels, razor clams, and fishes.


  • Spawning in the mid-Atlantic region takes place in deeper waters off the continental shelf from June through October with a peak in July and August off the coast of Virginia.
  • Female black sea bass usually mature by ages 2-5 and produce approximately 280,000 pelagic eggs which are buoyant and contain a single oil globule.
  • Larval development occurs in coastal waters.

Fishing Tips:

  • Black sea bass are regarded as a good-eating, flavorful fish.
  • Bottom fishing from boats near structure (rocks, wrecks, and reefs) using squid and other natural baits works best to catch these fish.
  • For current recreational size and creel limits, see Maryland's updated regulation page.

Fun Fact:

  • Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, functioning first as females and then as males.
  • Sex reversal may not occur in all fish; only 38% of the females in the mid-Atlantic were observed to be hermaphroditic.
  • Sex reversal generally occurs between the sizes, 9-13 inches: most fish 8 inches and below are female.
  • Sex reversal is probably a post-spawning event since it occurs most frequently from August through April.
  • Social interaction may play a role in sexual transformation; the removal of large male fish from a local population may induce one or more of the largest remaining females to change sex and assume the male role.
  • The recreational fishery for black sea bass is important along the Atlantic coast of Maryland. Approximately 35% of the Mid-Atlantic coast (Maryland & Virginia) recreational black sea bass landings are harvested from state waters, which includes bay waters out to 3 miles.

Family: Serranidae (Sea basses: groupers and fairy basslets)

Order: Perciformes (perch-likes)

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For more information on black sea bass and their management, please contact Steve Doctor or Nancy Butowski.

Illustration by Diane Rome Peebles
Provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
Division of Marine Fisheries Management

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