Black sea bass (Centropristis)
Black sea bass coloration is highly variable, ranging from bluish-black to brown to smoky gray on the top, shading to a slightly paler color on the side and belly. The scales are large and have pale blue or white centers that sometimes form faint vertical stripes along the back and sides. The body is robust, with a high, arching back. The head is flat and ends in a slightly pointed snout, and the mouth is large. There are two joined dorsal fins, the first with long, sharp points that jet up into the air, particularly on older males that have highly arched backs. Males usually have higher dorsal fins than females.
Classified as carnivorous bottom-feeders, black sea bass feed extensively on crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp, as well as small fish, worms and mollusks. Being visual feeders, they feed mostly during the day.
Black sea bass are found in the western Atlantic Ocean, from Maine to the Florida Keys, including the Gulf of Mexico. During most of the year, they inhabit the northern tier of the U.S. Atlantic Coast and are most abundant from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
As shallow- to medium-depth fish, black sea bass are found most often between 50 and 180 feet deep. Younger fish stay closer to shore than older black sea bass. They prefer rocky-bottomed areas over shells, coral and rock, and congregate around rock jetties and pilings, reefs and wrecks. They are also one of the most abundant species on artificial reefs along the South Atlantic coast.
While black sea bass often gather in large groups, they do not travel together in schools. They can tolerate water temperatures as low as 42 and as high as 84 F. In the northern part of their range, they migrate seasonally, going out to sea during the winter and returning closer to shore when the weather warms. However, in the southern area of their range, roughly from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina southward, they do not migrate but rather reside in the same areas year round.
- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.