The black sea bass is a type of Grouper (Serranidae) found more commonly in northern than in southern ranges. It inhabits the coasts from Maine to NE Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. There are three large biomass populations of black sea bass—the Mid-Atlantic stock, from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, the South Atlantic stock, from Cape Hatteras to the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, and the Gulf of Mexico stock, from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula to Texas.
They can be found in inshore waters (bays and sounds) and offshore in waters up to a depth of 130 m (425 ft). They spend most of their time close to the sea floor and are often congregated around bottom formations such as rocks, man-made reefs, wrecks, jetties, piers, and bridge pilings.
The sea bass spawns when it is mature, at 190 mm (7.5 in), in middle of May to end of June. The buoyant eggs are 0.95 mm (0.03 in) in diameter, and their development time is 1.6 days at 23 °C (74 °F). The maximum size of a sea bass is 500 mm (20 in), weighing 4.3 kg (9.5 lb).
It appears off New Jersey in the first weeks of May, withdrawing in late October or early November, and wintering offshore at 55 to 130 m (180 to 426 ft) at temperatures above 8 °C (46 °F). In summer it is most abundant at less than 37 m (120 ft).
Black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that they generally first mature as females and some later become male. The sex change generally occurs over the winter when the fish are 240 to 330 mm (9.5 to 13 in) long.
Anglers commonly catch black sea bass incidentally while bottom fishing for grouper or snapper. While smaller than most other members of the family, black sea bass are aggressive and fun to catch, especially if you scale back to the lighter tackle. Light to medium weight spinning or bait casting tackle with 10 to 20 pound test line is sufficient. At times (especially during the winter months) black sea bass are so hungry and aggressive that they will hold on to your lead all the way to the surface or the bottom of your cooler. Good baits for black sea bass include squid, shrimp or cut bait, or jigs tipped with squid. As a food fish, black sea bass are excellent and known for their firm white flesh and mild flavor.
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