Sex Determination and Reversal in the Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata)

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Sustainable Aquaculture


David Berlinsky UNH - Department of Biological Sciences Principal Investigator
Theodore Smith South Carolina Dept. of Natural Resources Co-Principal Investigator
George Nardi GreatBay Aquaculture, LLC Industry Partner

Students Involved:

Christopher Benton UNH - Department of Biological Sciences
James DeGraaf UNH - Department of Biological Sciences
Kate Strait UNH - Department of Biological Sciences
Brian Hooper University of New Hampshire
Stephanie Hillsgrove University of New Hampshire
Regan Gibson University of New Hampshire
Adam Argeropoulos University of New Hampshire

Continued growth of the U.S. aquaculture industry requires identification of new culture species and expansion of existing markets. One species with enormous potential for culture is the black sea bass (Centropristis striata). Due to high consumer demand and limited seasonal availability, this species consistently commands high prices in the restaurant trade, ethnic markets and seafood stores.

We have been exploring various aspects of black sea bass culture over the past five years. To date, we have developed protocols for spawning induction and larviculture and identified environmental conditions favorable for juvenile survival. In the wild, black sea bass are protogynous hermaphrodites. As such, the majority of individuals develop first as females, remain females for three-five years, and then undergo sexual succession to become functional males. This process is exacerbated in culture and often entire cohorts of female broodstock undergo sex inversion after one spawning season in captivity. Additionally, culture conditions promote male sexual differentiation and precocious puberty, which limits somatic growth.

The proposed studies are designed to address these problems by examining the time course and environmental factors that influence sex differentiation and reversal. Specifically, we will investigate whether black sea bass, like many other teleosts, exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, if photoperiod initiates precocious puberty, and if population density and sex ratio impact the rate of sex inversion.


1) Determine the developmental stage at which sex differentiation occurs

2) Examine the effects of rearing temperature and population density on sex differentiation

3) Determine the effect of photoperiod on rate of sexual development

4) Characterize the relative growth rates of male and female black sea bass reared in captivity

5) Determine if social structure or density influences initiation of sex reversal


Juvenile black sea bass will be reared at different temperatures and densities, serially sampled and examined histologically for gonadal development. Juveniles will be raised under different photoperiod regimes for 10-month periods to determine the rate of sexual maturation and relative growth rates of males and females. Adult black sea bass will be cultured at different sex ratios and densities to determine the social effects on sex inversion.


Due to high consumer value and limited seasonal availability, the black sea bass has enormous potential as an aquaculture candidate and we have been examining favorable culture conditions for the past five years. Two remaining problems must be addressed before profitable commercialization of this species can be realized:

1) Controlling precocious puberty in males

2) Preventing sex reversal of female broodstock.

Completion of the proposed studies will increase profitability of black sea bass culture by improving somatic growth of juveniles and diminishing the need to replenish wild, female broodstock.


The major impact of the project was that we provided information that prevents, or at least delays, the process of sex change in black sea bass. Therefore, growers can maintain their (female) broodstock for longer periods of time without the necessity of replenishing them from the wild.


Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant

Journal Article

  • DeGraaf, J., W. King V, C. Benton and D. Berlinsky (2004). Production and storage of sperm from the black sea bass, "Centropristis striata" L. Aquaculture Research 35:1457-1465.
  • King V, W., B. Hooper, S. Hillsgrove, C. Benton and D. Berlinsky (2005). The use of clove oil, metomidate, tricaine methanesulphonate and 2-phenoxyethanol for inducing anaesthesia and their effect on the cortisol stress response in black sea bass ("Centropristis striata" L.). Aquaculture Research 36:1442-1449.
  • Berlinsky, D., W. King V and T. Smith (2005). The use of luteinizing hormone releasing hormone analogue for ovulation induction in black sea bass ("Centropristis striata"). Aquaculture 250:813-822.
  • Denson, M., W. Jenkins, D. Berlinsky and T. Smith (2007). A comparison of human chorionic gonadotropin and luteinizing hormone releasing hormone analogue for ovulation induction in black sea bass "Centropristis striata" (Linnaeus, 1758). Aquaculture Research 38(9):918-925, June 2007.
  • Benton C. and D. Berlinsky (2006). Induced sex change in black sea bass. Journal of Fish Biology 69(5):1491-1503, November 2006.
  • Colburn, H., A. Walker and D. Berlinsky (2009). The effects of temperature on sex differentiation and growth of black bass ("Centropristis striata" L.). Aquaculture Research 40(6):729-736, April 2009.
  • Seaborn, G., T. Smith, M. Denson, A. Walker and D. Berlinsky (2009). Comparative fatty acid composition of eggs from wild and captive black sea bass, "Centropristis striata" L. Aquaculture Research 40(6):656-668, April 2009.


  • Benton, C. (2005). Investigation into sex determination and sex change in black sea bass, "Centropristis striata" L. Master's Thesis, University of New Hampshire.