In aquaculture management it is important to establish objective criteria to assess health and welfare of the fish. Here we show that European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) confronted with husbandry-associated stress (tank cleaning, i.e. scrubbing, and water temperature variation) during early life stages show poorer survival and disease resistance as juveniles. We evaluated several parameters for stress (plasma cortisol, glucose and lactate, hydromineral status), growth performance, the immune response (plasma IgM levels) and the effects of a nodavirus challenge. Principal component analysis allowed the establishment of a stress panel including plasma cortisol, osmolality, IgM levels and weight. Sea bass juveniles reared during early life in high and constant temperature perform best in terms of stress-related parameters assessed by principle component analysis. Variable water temperature triggers dramatic changes in plasma cortisol, osmolality, IgM levels, body weight and susceptibility to nodavirus that suggest a strong and prolonged activation of the HPI axis. Scrubbing induces some disturbances typical for mild short-term, acute stress, viz. increased plasma osmolality and decreased IgM levels, but does not affect plasma cortisol, growth or susceptibility to nodavirus of sea bass. Our data fit well with the concept of allostasis. We discuss the relevance of our work for sea bass aquaculture.