Bass are a popular game fish that put up a strong fight when caught, but you rarely see them on dinner plates. If you’ve ever wondered why people don’t eat bass more often, you’re not alone. We’re unpacking the main reasons people tend to avoid eating bass in this in-depth article.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: People don’t eat bass more often because of concerns over contaminants, small fillets, mild flavor, and abundant populations making them more valued for sport fishing.

Concerns Over Contaminants

Mercury Levels in Bass

Bass and other predatory fish can accumulate concerning levels of mercury in their tissues. Mercury is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans, especially in high doses. It is released into the environment from industrial pollution and can make its way up the food chain to top predators like bass.

According to research, bass sampled from some freshwater lakes and rivers have shown average mercury concentrations over 0.3 parts per million (ppm). This is the safety threshold recommended by agencies like the EPA and FDA for certain sensitive groups like pregnant women.

Eating bass fillets with high mercury repeatedly can pose health risks like neurological problems.

However, mercury levels can vary widely depending on factors like the pollution levels and productivity of a body of water. Many bass populations may have low average mercury and be safe to eat in moderation.

But targeted research is still limited, meaning concentrations can be uncertain in some areas.

PCBs and Other Pollutants

In addition to metals like mercury, other industrial pollutants can also accumulate in predator fish tissues. One notorious example is PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls. Though banned decades ago, these extremely persistent chemicals still linger in some environments.

Research on chemicals like PCBs and dioxins has shown they can accumulate to higher levels in bass compared to many other freshwater fish. In a recent study examining fish from rivers in New York State, bass were found to have PCB levels nearly 8 times higher than other bottom-feeding species on average.

The potential health impacts of exposure to these low, chronic levels is still being studied. While levels may be safe for occasional meals, repeatedly eating bass with higher contaminant loads can pose uncertain risks. Cooking and cleaning methods can reduce but not eliminate contaminants.

More awareness and proactive testing is still needed on bass populations most likely to be caught and consumed by anglers. While bass can make a tasty meal, caution is warranted about over-consumption from waterbodies with greater contamination.

Small Fillet Size

One of the main reasons why people don’t eat bass as much as other popular fish is due to their small fillet size. Compared to meaty fish like salmon, cod, or tuna, bass have a relatively petite fillet that provides little edible meat per fish.

The average fillet yield of a largemouth bass is only about 30-35% of their total body weight. This means a 2 pound bass would provide fillets totaling less than 3⁄4 pound of meat. Channel catfish, on the other hand, have a 45-50% fillet yield while salmon come in at around 60-70%.

The small amount of edible meat bass provide simply doesn’t compare favorably when going up against other fish choices at the seafood counter or on a restaurant menu. Their fillet size works against them both in terms of having enough meat to sufficiently feed an individual or family, as well as being cost effective based on price per edible pound of seafood.

Difficulty in Preparation

The petite size of bass fillets also makes them more difficult to work with in the kitchen compared to preparing larger, thicker fillets. Their thin shape makes bass fillets prone to overcooking and drying out quickly under high heat.

Filleting a bass also takes more time and skill relative to the amount of meat yielded.

This challenge in preparation and tendency to become overcooked has helped perpetuate bass having a reputation for not being as moist, tender, or flavorful as other fish. The preparation learning curve and vigilant attention bass requires turns some home cooks and professional chefs off from regularly including it on menus and fish offerings to customers and dinner guests.

Perception as a “Trash Fish”

Unfortunate misperceptions of bass being a “trash fish” not suitable for table fare also stem in part from their small fillets. Species like tilapia, catfish, and carp have faced similar prejudices in the past despite their great flavor because of the notion smaller, more bountiful fish are less prestigious eating compared to large, powerful gamefish like tuna, cod, and salmon.

Thankfully, this perception has changed dramatically in recent decades as more people discover how delicious bass can be with proper preparation. Celebrity chefs and fishing-related media have helped highlight fresh bass recipes that accentuate its sweet, delicate flavor that contrasts wonderfully with bolder ingredients and cooking techniques.

While size limits total yield, the rich taste and texture of bass fillets make it a seafood delicacy perfect for gourmet meals. When treated with care in preparation, the smaller fillet dimensions can actually lead to bass picking up more flavors for a tasty culinary showcase.

Mild Flavor

One of the main reasons why people don’t eat more bass is that it has a relatively mild flavor compared to other popular types of fish. Here are some key points about the mild taste of bass and why it turns some people off:

  • Bass lacks the bold, fishy taste of salmon, tuna, or mackerel that many people associate with fish. Instead, it has a more subtle, delicate flavor.
  • The flesh of bass is white, flaky, and lean. While it is certainly not tasteless, its mild flavor profile makes it easy to overlook on a restaurant menu or seafood counter.
  • People who prefer fish with a strong, distinctive taste may find bass to be too bland for their preferences. Its mild flavor can be easy to lose when cooking or hidden by heavy sauces.
  • Freshwater bass species like largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass tend to have even lighter flavor and texture compared to popular marine fish favorites.

However, the mild taste and texture of bass also make it very versatile to cook. Chefs often recommend keeping preparations simple to let its delicate flavor shine through. Healthy cooking methods like baking, grilling, or pan-searing bass with just a squeeze of lemon or herbs allow subtle sweetness and nuances to come forward.

While bold fish lovers may pass it over, bass can be the perfect introduction to seafood for kids and other picky eaters. Mild white fish like bass is often recommended as a starter fish for children getting used to the unique taste of seafood.

The subtle flavor and lack of excessive “fishiness” makes it easy for unexperienced palates to appreciate.

In the end, the mild profile that turns some experienced seafood fans away also makes it an approachable choice for newcomers. Bass can be the perfect way to get more people interested in reaping the many nutritional benefits of fish.

Abundant Game Fish Populations

Bass are an abundant and popular game fish found in lakes, rivers, and streams across North America. Their large populations ensure bass fishing opportunities remain plentiful for anglers. Here’s an overview of bass abundance and why they make such a great game fish:

Widespread Distribution

Largemouth bass have been introduced widely beyond their native range and can now be found in most states. Their adaptability to a variety of habitats from small ponds to large reservoirs helps explain their abundant numbers.

Several bass species including spotted bass and smallmouth bass also have expansive ranges across central and eastern parts of the continent.

Fast Growth Rates

Bass grow quickly compared to many freshwater species. A bass can reach over 7 pounds in just a few years with adequate food sources and habitat. Their rapid growth allows bass populations to replenish themselves even with heavy fishing pressure.

Catch-and-release practices help further ensure healthy populations for the future.

Productive Spawners

Mature bass produce impressive numbers of young. A 5-pound female may lay over 50,000 eggs in a single spawn. Even allowing for low survival rates among fry, a handful of bass can produce thousands of offspring leading to fast population growth.

Their spawning success is aided by nest-guarding behavior and adaptable nest site selection.

While abundant, bass do face threats including habitat loss and declining water quality. Careful management practices combined with anglers’ conservation ethics help preserve bass populations and outstanding fishing opportunities well into the future.


While bass aren’t as popular at the dinner table as other fish, they remain an extremely popular game fish across North America. Concerns over contaminants, small fillets, mild flavor, and abundant populations have all contributed to bass being passed up on menus.

However, properly prepared bass can make for a tasty and nutritious meal as long as consumption guidelines are followed.

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