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Sea Bass, Black (Centropristis striata)
Also known as: Black Bass, Blackfish, Rock Bass, Sea Bass, Tallywag
Source: Wild-caught in Gulf waters, mostly from West Florida

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.

Black sea bass is found all along the East Coast and in the northern Gulf of Mexico. A relative of grouper, this species has delicate, mild-tasting meat and is aggressive and fun to catch, making it popular with commercial and recreational fishermen alike. In Florida, commercial fishermen target them offshore with hook and line gear and in inshore waters with traps. They’re also caught as bycatch in stone crab traps. About 90% of Florida’s commercial harvest of black sea bass is landed on the Gulf coast. In fact, Florida’s Gulf coast fishermen are the top harvesters of this species in the United States, accounting for about 17% of total U.S. harvest of black sea bass (closely followed by Virginia and New Jersey). Recreational fishermen commonly catch black sea bass incidentally while bottom fishing for grouper or snapper. In 2013, recreational fishermen brought in close to 200,000 black sea bass on Florida’s Gulf coast.

Black sea bass is divided into three populations based on location: northern (north of Cape Hatteras), southern (south of Cape Hatteras), and Gulf of Mexico. All three populations are managed separately. The State of Florida manages its Gulf fisheries for black sea bass through a number of measures including gear restrictions, size limits, and license requirements to ensure fishing pressure is at appropriate levels and the resource is healthy.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

In the past decade, commercial fishermen have landed an average of nearly 222,000 pounds of black sea bass on Florida’s Gulf coast. In 2013, they brought in 527,270 pounds, with revenues of nearly $537,000. About 90% of Florida’s total commercial harvest of this species is landed on the Gulf coast. Florida’s Gulf coast fishermen are the top harvesters of black sea bass in the United States, accounting for 17% of the total U.S. harvest in 2013, closely followed by Virginia and New Jersey.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics

Landings Summary Data :  

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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) monitors the black sea bass population by sampling young fish in inshore waters, juvenile fish that live in sea grass beds, and adults that live offshore to determine their abundance and other biological conditions.

The State of Florida monitors the commercial black sea bass fishery through the Marine Fisheries Trip Ticket Program, which requires all sales of seafood products from the waters of Florida to be reported on a trip ticket at the time of sale. Trip tickets include information about the harvester, the dealer purchasing the product, the date of the transaction, the county in which the species was landed, time fished, and pounds of each species landed for each trip. They collect data on the recreational fishery through the Marine Recreational Information Program survey.

Current Abundance

FWRI has not officially assessed the status of the Gulf black sea bass population. However, they monitor this population through various surveys. Results from these surveys have shown an overall declining trend with increases in recent years (2006 through 2010). FWRI has also used survey results in a model to use in future assessments to determine the relative abundance of Gulf black sea bass, but model results are uncertain. Researchers need additional data and model improvements to accurately assess the status of this population.

Additional Research


Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is responsible for managing the black sea bass fishery in Florida state waters and adjacent federal waters.

Management Program

FWC’s overall goal is to manage the state’s fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well being as well as the benefit of the people that use them.


  • Fishermen must have the appropriate licenses and permits to harvest and sell black sea bass, including a restricted species endorsement and saltwater products license. This endorsement promotes the sustainable harvest of the state’s most valuable commercial species and helps professionalize the commercial fishery.
  • Commercial fishermen may only harvest black sea bass 10 inches total length or larger. This minimum size limit prevents overfishing by allowing black sea bass to grow large enough to reproduce before they are harvested.
  • Commercial fishermen may only use traps, hook and line gear, and spears to harvest reef fish, including black sea bass. Traps must meet certain requirements to prevent bycatch: no larger than two feet in any dimension, must have a biodegradable panel and an unobstructed escape vent opening on at least two opposite vertical sides, and the throat may not exceed five inches high by two inches wide. Traps must also be properly marked with the trap owner’s license number (to identify the owner of the trap if it’s lost and to track the number of traps) and must have a buoy (which also must meet certain requirements) attached.
  • Traps are prohibited in certain areas and between September 20 and October 4 in state waters seaward of three nautical miles from shore to allow for removal of lost or abandoned traps.
  • Harvest of black sea bass is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park; no commercial fishing is permitted in this area to protective sensitive habitat and minimize conflicts between user groups.


  • Recreational fishermen must have a saltwater recreational fishing license to fish for black sea bass.
  • Recreational fishermen may only harvest black sea bass 10 inches total length or larger, and they may only keep 100 pounds per person per day to prevent overfishing.
  • Recreational fishermen may only use hook and line gear and spears to catch black sea bass. They must use circle hooks (to reduce internal harm to the fish by decreasing de-hooking time for the angler and decrease the chances of a hook getting lost in the fish) and a de-hooking device (to remove a hook from a fish without the hook being re-engaged into a fish). This required gear, when used properly, reduces the handling time of fish intended for release and can increase a fish’s chance of survival.