American Oceans

European Sea Bass

The European sea bass, or dicentrarchus labrax, is an ocean-dwelling fish inhabiting waters west and south of Europe and north of Africa’s coasts.

European Sea Bass dicentrarchus labrax inhabiting Europe waters

During the summer months, the European sea bass can be found in shallow coastal waters and river mouths as well.

It is one of six species within the Moronidae family, also known as the temperate basses. In the British Isles, it is also known as “the common bass”, “capemouth”, “king of the mullets”, or simply “bass”.

In North America, it is commonly referred to as one of its Italian names, branzino. It is an extremely popular seafood dish and ingredient across the globe.

Characteristics & Appearance

The European sea bass is a rather unassuming fish. While it is a large fish, it does not sport bright colors to distinguish it from other species. They can come in a variety of neutral colors.

Weight & Length

The European sea bass can weigh between 5 kg (11 lbs) and 12 kg (26 lbs) and grow to lengths between 0.5 m (1 ft 8 in) and 1 m (3 ft 3 in).

An average European sea bass takes several years to reach full adulthood, as they are a slow-growing species.

Physical Characteristics & Color

The European sea bass is typically silvery gray to bluish on the back, silvery on the sides, and white on the belly. They have an elongated body, larger scales, and a stripe down their sides.

Their neutral colors blend into their environment to catch smaller fish for meals. The ends of their tails and fins are darker than the rest of their body.

European sea bass have two fins along its back, two along its belly, and one on either side of its body.

It has large eyes, one on either side of its body. When they are juveniles, they have dark spots along their body.

European Sea Bass large eyes and dark fins

This fish is photogenic and is often seen in pictures with fishermen who have made a large catch. One sea bass can be a struggle for a single fisherman due to their size and weight. These fish can grow quite large, making for a great photo opportunity if caught.

Lifespan & Reproduction

European sea bass can live in the wild for up to 25 years. They are a slow-growing species that do not reach maturity until 7 to 8 years old.

Three European Sea Bass represent slow-growing species

Even though this species is sought-after gamefish, it is not at risk of extinction because it has no known major threats besides overfishing.

Without threats like predators, this species is typically able to live its full life if not caught for commercial use.

This breed of sea bass reaches sexual maturity after 5 to 8 years. European sea bass are pelagic fish, which means they reproduce by laying eggs in the upper layers of the sea. One European sea bass lays an average of 300,000 eggs that hatch in May through June.

European Sea Bass reproduce by laying eggs

Once hatched, juveniles live in shallow coastal waters for 4 to 5 years while they mature. After this, they migrate between the feeding grounds and spawning grounds for the remainder of their lifespan.


European sea bass are found in rivers, estuaries (the tidal mouths of large rivers), lagoons, and coastal waters.

European Sea Bass found in coastal waters habitat

These habitats are located in the waters of Greece, France, Spain, the Eastern Atlantic Ocean near southern Norway and Senegal, the Mediterranean Sea, and south of the Black Sea.

This species can live in brackish waters. Brackish water has a higher salinity than freshwater but not as much as oceanic saltwater.

It typically results from mixing freshwater and ocean water, which happens naturally in estuaries.

Where Do European Sea Bass Live?

As mentioned previously, this species of sea bass lives anywhere from rivers to coastal waters. They can live in freshwater, brackish water, and seawater.

European Sea Bass live in seawater

European sea bass grow up living in shoals while they mature in shallow waters. They will swim in all directions but never stray far from the coast, eating and growing.

Once the sea bass has matured, it will start to break away from its shoal. Most fully matured European sea bass live independently until death.

Food & Diet

European sea bass are not at the bottom of the food chain, nor are they at the top. They are carnivores that eat smaller fish and crustacea and are a primary food source for other sea-dwellers. Sharks, seals, other sea bass, and predatory fish all feast on this sea bass.

What Do European Sea Bass Eat?

European sea bass mainly eat shrimp and mollusks, but will also hunt crustacea, squid, and smaller fish. They hunt these larger meals within their shoals. They are considered schooling predators, which means they work together to hunt their food.

European Sea Bass eat smaller fish

During the summer, European sea bass needs to eat daily. When winter comes and their metabolism begins to slow down, they can get away with eating once a week, or even once every two weeks depending on the size of the meal.

When a European sea bass hunts its food, it usually uses one out of two techniques. Option one is to wait undercover before lunging.

Option two is chasing its meal until either it or its snack wins. When they hunt in shoals there is a better chance of success, however, it can also mean a sea bass loses its prey to another.

European Sea Bass hunt its meal

These sea bass are by no means picky eaters. They have been known to eat nearly anything they find that they think is a meal.

Fishermen have found them swallowing dog biscuits and bread, and have even found chicken bones in the stomachs of captured bass.

Threats & Predators

As with most sea life, European sea bass are not immune to threats and predators. Depending on certain factors, this species can certainly be at risk.

Human Threats

The European sea bass is one of the most important fish currently cultured in the Mediterranean. It is a popular dish across the world, making it a popular commercialized item.

This can lead to overfishing if the population is not monitored closely, which can quickly lead to endangerment and extinction.

Climate Change & Global Warming

Studies have shown that current European sea bass populations have begun migrating farther north in recent years.

European Sea Bass migrating due to climate change

This is most likely due to the changes in sea temperature. As northern water temperatures begin to rise they provide viable breeding and feeding grounds for this species.


As mentioned earlier, European sea bass are hunted by species larger than themselves. There are approximately 47 shark species that inhabit the Mediterranean Sea where these sea bass live.

shark predators hunting European Sea Bass species

While there are not as many seals or larger bass in this sea, they do inhabit the other coasts sea bass live as well.

Other Threats

In recent years there has been an outbreak of gill parasites that are affecting the European sea bass population.

These parasites, Diplectanum aequans and Lernanthropus kroyeri, create infections within the gills of the fish, ultimately leading to death.

The infections spread quickly in sea cages, which is a method of fishing large populations of sea bass for commercial use.

Conservation Status

European sea bass are currently under the “least concern” observation status. As of 2021, the population is stable and has more than 10,000 species globally.

European Sea Bass conservation swimming away from parasite

Their population has seen a decrease of less than 10% in the last 10 years. At this point, the biggest threat to this species is overfishing.

If the parasites mentioned earlier continue to infect the population, the current fishing rate will have to adjust.

Fun Facts About European Sea Bass

  • They communicate using touch, smell, or chemicals
  • While the exact speed of the European sea bass is unknown, due to its migratory patterns, it is clear they can travel long distances
  • They are not dangerous but should not be kept as pets due to their migratory habits
  • Their mercury content is low compared to other fish, which makes them safe for pregnant women to eat
  • Anglers use a long line or a rod and a line to catch these large fish
  • The name Dicentrarchus labrax derives from Greek, from the presence of two anal spines: two = di, sting = kentron, archos = anus.

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