Marine Management News Fish Identification Quiz
Although there are no published scientific studies that provide detailed information about the habits of this fish, biologists believe it migrates to specific areas to spawn each year from July through September. Females are capable of producing millions of eggs annually. The eggs float at the sea surface for 24 to 36 hours before hatching; afterwards, the tiny hatchlings drift with the currents for about a month before settling to the bottom as young fish.
This species ranges from the tip of Baja California, Mexico to Humboldt Bay in northern California although it is rare north of Point Conception. It may also be found in the northern half of the Gulf of California. Adults prefer to live near the edges of shallow (35 to 130 ft.) nearshore rocky reefs, while young fish may be found in a variety of habitats. Young fish have been caught over sandy bottom, sand-mud bottom, and over rocks and deep ridges by anglers targeting rockfish, at depths from 20 to 265 ft.
This species can reach over 500 lb. and 7 ft. in length; adults are nearly as big around as they are long. Males reach sexual maturity at around 40 lb., while females reach maturity at 50 to 60 lb. Young fish are perch-shaped, orange, with large pelvic fins and big black spots. As they grow they become bass-shaped with large tail fins; young adults are bronzy-purple to brown with large black spots, and adults are dark brown, black, or gray, with white bellies. Some researchers believe this species has the ability to change color patterns at will; the large black spots may be present at any age. Biologists estimate this fish takes six years to reach 30 lb., 10 years to reach 100 lb., and 15 years to reach 150 lb.
For the majority of its life, this fish lives close to the bottom and consumes mostly bottom-dwelling fish and shellfish including rays, skates, crabs, shrimps, and squid. When young, it is eaten by many marine mammals and fish.
Both commercial and sport fisheries existed for this species in California, but because it grows slowly and matures at a relatively old age, it is easily overfished. Off California, commercial landings peaked near 200,000 lb. in 1932 before declining. The later-developing California recreational fishery for this fish peaked in 1973 after which landings also declined, partly because fishing excursions often targeted spawning aggregations.
This fish is a young giant (black) sea bass, Stereolepis gigas. Giant sea bass is a no-take species - the bag limit is zero fish in California waters (see Section 28.10).
CONSERVATION NOTE: Giant sea bass undergo distinct body changes before reaching adulthood, at times looking rather like a perch or a rockfish. Identifying and releasing young fish is crucial to preserving the species off California.