Folks working to restore the health of oceans and the fish populations that call them home are understandably wary of fetishizing any single species. The prevailing American fervor for tuna, salmon and shrimp, which account for half of the seafood consumed nationwide, has pressured the environment in dangerous ways.
But the black sea bass could probably stand a little more attention from eaters. The mild-fleshed fish, prized for its firm-yet-delicate texture, is one of many fish now sanctioned for harvesting. It's already popular with sporting types — recreational fishermen in 2013 captured more than 2 million pounds of black sea bass — but the fish hasn't yet attained the name recognition of wreckfish. Here, seven reasons why that situation ought to change:
1. The black sea bass, a member of the grouper family, isn't always black. Smaller specimens are dusky brown with light-colored bellies. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “dominant males turn bright blue and have a blue hump on their heads” during spawning season.
2. Like most fish found on the end of leisure lines, the black sea bass goes by many different names. The fish is also known as a black will, chub, pinbass, old humpback, rock bass, Atlantic sea bass and tallywag. It's sometimes confused with black drum.
3. Black sea bass is low in fat and high in magnesium. It's also a rich source of protein, with each 100-gram serving providing about 18 grams of protein.
4. When shopping for black sea bass, seek out white, translucent flesh, bright eyes and pink gills. Some fans of the fish believe hooked black sea bass is tastier than trapped black sea bass (trawling was banned in the South Atlantic in 1989.) But no matter how the fish was harvested, it can be substituted for snapper in most recipes.
5. In 2005, the federal government began imposing catch limits on the southern black sea bass fishery, which stretches from Cape Hatteras to the Florida Keys. Eight years later, the overfished stock was declared successfully rebuilt. “People are seeing more black sea bass than they have since the 1970s,” NOAA's South Atlantic Branch chief was quoted as saying in a release announcing the achievement.
6. For reasons that still confound scientists, black sea bass begin their lives as females and become males as they grow. Black sea bass top out at around nine pounds, making them puny compared to their Pacific cousins: Giant sea bass, which can live for 75 years, typically weigh about 50 pounds, but unsuspecting fishermen have landed massive examples of the species. The world record belongs to a Californian who caught a 563-pound sea bass.
7. Federal law allows recreational fishermen to take up to 15 black sea bass, although a few states along the fish's migration route impose more stringent limits. In Massachusetts, the limit is eight, which an allegedly drunken boater far exceeded earlier this season. Massachusetts Environmental Police in May charged a man who had stashed 122 black sea bass in his coolers; the illicit fish were donated to charity.