Black sea bass are smoky gray, dusky brown, or blue-black. Their coloring fades on their underside. The center of each scale is pale blue or white, giving them a striped appearance on their back and sides. Black sea bass have a large head, a pointy snout, and one sharp, flat spine near their head. Breeding males have a hump in front of their dorsal fin and iridescent blue markings on their head.
Black sea bass are typically about a foot long but can grow up to more than two feet long and 9.5 pounds. They are able to reproduce at about 7.5 inches long. Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites—they function first as females then older females become breeding males. They spawn year-round, except October, with peaks from February to May. Females spawn about 31 times per year. Black sea bass can live to 10 years old.
Black sea bass are carnivorous and feed on the bottom. They prey on fish, squid, shrimp, crab, and other crustaceans. Striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, and sharks feed on black sea bass.
Black sea bass are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Canada and Maine, south to northeastern Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. They sometimes venture down to southern Florida during cold winters. Some researchers consider black sea bass in the Gulf population to be a subspecies: Centropristis striata melanus.
Black sea bass generally prefer water 20 to 80 feet deep but can be caught farther offshore in waters up to 425 feet deep. Often called rock bass, they love structure and are commonly found near the bottom around rock piles, limestone ledges, wrecks, piers, pilings, and reefs. Juveniles are also found in shallower water over sea grass and near jetties and reefs.