What is a Sea Bass?

B. Koch

The name sea bass describes many different kinds of fish. They are typically native to subtropical and tropical waters, and many varieties are popular for use in cooking and eating. Some common varieties of this type of fish include black sea bass, Chilean sea bass, giant sea bass and potato cod. Many varieties of these fish are threatened or endangered due to overfishing.

Chilean sea bass is a popular restaurant dish.
Chilean sea bass is a popular restaurant dish.

Sea bass are fish in the family serranidae, in the order perciformes. These fish usually have small scales and a large mouth on an elongated body. They are carnivorous fish and may vary greatly in size from several inches to several feet.

To preserve Chilean sea bass, some promote consuming fish such as barramundi instead.
To preserve Chilean sea bass, some promote consuming fish such as barramundi instead.

The great sea bass, Stereolepis gigas, is the largest type of sea bass and has been known to reach 7 feet (2.1 meters) and over 500 pounds (about 227 kilograms). They are native to the eastern Pacific ocean and reside around offshore reefs and rocky areas. Early in life, they have an orange coloration with black spots, two traits the fish loses as it grows. They later become a solid black or gray color with a white underbelly.

Another type of sea bass is the potato cod or potato grouper, Epinepheius tukula. They are native to the oceans around Australia, Japan and east Africa. Potato cod may be grey or brown with dark brown spots or may be completely black. These fish may be over 6 feet long (1.8 meters) and weigh close to 500 pounds (about 227 kilograms). Divers have been known to feed potato cod by hand, although this activity is only suggested to experienced divers, since these fish can be aggressive.

Some varieties of sea bass, including the black sea bass, are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means that they may change their sex. While all black sea bass are born as females, between the ages of two and five, many will turn into males. It is uncertain why this occurs, but some suspect it happens to generate more males during spawning season.

One type of sea bass that is severely threatened is the Chilean sea bass, also known as the tooth fish. They are at high risk for overfishing because they grow slowly and reproduce late in life. The population has suffered severe overfishing. Although some Chilean sea bass on the market is sustainably harvested, the majority is not, and consumers may want to investigate the method of harvesting if they choose to consume this type of fish.

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