White Seabass

The Science

White seabass is not a seabass, it is a member of the Croaker family so named because the males make croaking noises.

The Fishery

Since 1986, over 1.5 million juvenile white seabass have been released along our coast to enhance natural populations. Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute asks fishers to save their seabass heads which, if part of the program, contain a microchip used to track the fish

The Seafood

Because white seabass is so firm, it adapts well to almost any cooking method. In particular, recipes for true sea bass or grouper can be used for this fish.

The Science


Taxonomic description

  • Largest species of croaker (family: Sciaenidae) 
  • Emit croaking sounds by hitting the abdominal muscle against the swim bladder [2].
  • Large, mobile fish with average size of 9 kg (20 lbs) and just over 1 m (3 ft), but the largest recorded in California was 42 kg (93 lbs) and 1.5 m (5 ft) long [1,2]
  • Blue to gray in color on the back, with a silver belly; Juveniles have dark vertical stripes on their back.


  • Ranges from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico to the San Francisco area, and in the northern Gulf of California [1,2].
  • During the strong El Niño of 1957-1959 (i.e., warm waters), it was found as far north as Juneau, Alaska [2]
  • The center of the population seems to be off central Baja California [2].

Life history

  • Spawning usually occurs from April to August with a peak in late spring -- early summer [1].
  • Broadcast spawns: releases gametes in the water for fertilization. Release is usually at night to reduce predation on the eggs, which are the largest (1.3 mm or 0.5” diameter) of any croaker on the west coast l [1,2].
  • Age of maturity is uncertain, but all have probably spawned at least once by age 6 (81 cm or 32’ long) and can live to 20 yrs [2].


  • Newly hatched seabass inhabit open, shallow coastal waters (4-8 m or 12-30 ft deep) sometimes hanging out in drifting seaweed.
  • Juveniles (ages 1-3 yr) may move into protected bays where they use eelgrass beds for cover and feeding grounds; older juveniles are found near piers and jetties with kelp beds nearby.
  • Adults use many habitats: rocky reefs, kelp beds, offshore banks or the open ocean. [1]
  • Found in schools or as solitary individuals
  • Adults prey on Pacific mackerel, Pacific anchovies, Pacific herring, Pacific sardines, market squid and pelagic red crabs. [1,2]
  • A mix of human activities (pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction) and natural environmental conditions contributed to the long term decline of this species but spawning in captivity and release of seabass has enhanced populations [1].

The Fishery

Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute

Seasonal availability

  • June—March if the optimum yield remains below 1.2 million lbs for the season

Managing authority

  • The Fish & Game Commission partners stakeholders, evaluates stocks, & determines regulations.
  • In 2002, the Commission adopted the White Seabass Fishery Management Plan, part of the State Finfish Management Project, requiring annual stock assessment, report & stakeholder meeting. [3,7]
  • California Department of Fish & Wildlife enforces regulations, maintains catch records and monitors stocks.

Gear type

  • Most drift gillnets, some hook-and-line. 
  • Gear regulations limit bycatch of non-target species & damage to environment (e.g., set gillnets were banned in state waters in 1994) [4, 7].

Status of the fishery

  • Stocks are recovering off our coast after declines in the mid to late 1900s [3]
  • Through Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in Carlsbad, the Ocean Resources Enhancement & Hatchery Program provides juveniles to 13 grow-out facilities, which release the fish to replenish wild stocks. 
  • Relatively resilient to fishing pressure given young maturity age, high fecundity, & a fishing season sensitive to breeding season when fish aggregates to spawn 
  • The 2009-2010 White Seabass Fishery Management Plan Annual Assessment reported no overfishing [5].
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Fish Watch” classification of “Best Choice” when caught by hook-and-line and “Good Alternative” when caught via gillnets [6]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Hook-and-line & drift gillnets don’t contact the seafloor, but weighted set gillnets can damage seafloor.
  • Bycatch of non-target species is minimal due to gear regulations.

The Seafood

Lain Bagwell, myrecipes.com

Edible portions

  • Sold fresh as steaks, fillets, or whole  

Culinary uses

  • To prepare fresh filets for cooking, cut the fillet down the middle and trim off the dark “blood line” [e.g., 12]
  • May be kept frozen
  • Typical cooking methods include grill, sear, bake, broil, or sauté, may also be steamed or poached but is firm enough where these methods aren’t necessary.
  • Simple recipes are best for this delicious fish- sear skin-on with olive or grapeseed oil and lemon [12].
  • Other recipe ideas include: white seabass with orange-fennel relish, miso-glazed with asparagus, Cuban style, and prepared with confetti vegetables with lemon-butter [11]
  • Also great cold as a salad topper: slowly simmer the fish in olive oil and then wait until it cools and top salad.

Nutritional information  

  • Mixed species, raw (4.5 oz) [8]

Description of meat

  • Low-fat fish with a mild flavor
  • Known for its firm, meaty texture
  • Meat has thick, large, white flakes 

Toxicity report

  • No known contaminants, voted “Good Alternative” by Monterey Bay Aquarium [10]

Seasonal availability

  • Available in San Diego June–March [9]


1. Crooke, S., A. Louie. 2006. White Seabass. Status of the Fisheries Report. California Dept. Fish & Wildlife, Available: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/status/

2. Biology of the white seabass. 2012. Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research. Available: https://pier.org/rs_wsb_biology.php

3. Dept of Fish and Game. 2002. Final White Seabass Fishery Management Plan. State of Califonia,.

4. "White Seabass." State Finfish Management Project. California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2013.

5. Dept of Fish and Game. 2011. White Seabass Fishery Management Plan 2009-2010 Annual Review.

6. Seafod Watch. 2013. “White Seabass." Monterey Bay Aquarium. www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch

7. Crooke, S., ALouie. 2006. White Seabass. Status of the Fisheries Report. California Dept. Fish & Wildlife, www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/status/ 

8. "Fish, sea bass, mixed species, raw." SELF Nutrition Data: Know What You Eat. USDA SR-21, https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4117/2.

9. Crooke, S. A. Louie.. 2006. White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis. Status of the Fisheries Report 2006. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=34417&inline=true.

10. “White Seabass." Seafood Watch. Monterey Bay Aquarium, n.d. Web. 10 Aug 2013. http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/groups/seabass?q=Sea....

11.  Yummly, White Seabass Recipes. www.yummly.com/recipes/white-sea-bass

12. “Cooking Tips White Seabass: Farmers Market Bag, Catalina Offshore Products.www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhfMaMZM4GA