Mercado de Mariscos: The Heart of Panama City’s Fishing Industry

Photo posted April 16, 2017 in

In lively and colorful Panama City, the Mercado de Mariscos seafood market bustles from the ocean to the outdoor restaurant which is located nearby. Hundreds of people flock to the market daily, whether to observe the fishermen load the fish from the docks in the morning or to taste the fresh seafood on the table at the outdoor restaurant. This popular area in Panama promotes the true freshness of the food and culture, which is highly regarded because of the seafood.

Around 6:00 a.m. each morning, boats appear on the horizon and arrive at the docks to begin unloading the fresh catch of the day. An assortment of seafood is caught and distributed: shrimp, crawfish, whitefish, trout, tuna, and swordfish.

These species are caught all over the Pacific side of Panama and returned to the same docks every day, moving on the cycle of Mercado de Mariscos.

Many of the fishermen were introduced to the industry and work at a young age, sometimes as early as five-years-old. In Panama, generations of families work in the fishing industry.  Some of the men begin to work fulltime at age 11, starting early to provide more income for their families, and shortening their days at school.

The wooden fishing boats are lively and colorful. More than a dozen fishing vessels float in the bay water while the fishermen actively mull about repairing nets, chatting, and loading large blocks of ice. The paint on the boat is faded, but the energy of the atmosphere never dwindles. The boats depart from the dock for trips from 1 - 9 days of fishing. The men live at sea most of the time, including bathing, sleeping, eating and working.

The transition from the activity at the docks to the walkways inside the markets, behind the outside restaurant, is abrupt once lunchtime begins. Workers chop and clean fish within 50 feet of each other. The floors are wet with water and fish guts. The air has a distinct smell of fresh fish. Customers come here to purchase fish that just arrived from the docks.

The entirety of the Mercado de Mariscos is fascinating and enticing, completing the cycle from water to plate, which remarkably portrays the locality of food and the culture in the beautiful Panama City.