Fishing in Panama
Information on freshwater fishing, as well as sea fishing off the Panamanian coast...
The word Panama means “abundance of fish”. Fishing is a popular local pastime and Panama is a world class destination for professional and sport fishing around the world. Many fishing records are made or broken in Panama every year. Piñas Bay, for instance, has 250 fishing records – more than any other location in the world.
Panama is home to many excellent fishing locations such as Isla Coiba, Isla Perla, and the Gulf of Chiriquí, but all of Panama’s coast is suitable for saltwater and deep sea fishing. Fish that can be found in Panama’s waters include amberjack, billfish, black, blue and striped marlin, dolphin, dorado, grouper, jack, mackerel, pompano, rainbow runner, red snapper, roosterfish, tarpon, sailfish, sea bass, snapper, yellow fin tuna, and wahoo. Most of these fish are caught at sizes unseen elsewhere in the world.
No fishing permits are required to fish in Panama. However, a boat that is used for fishing must have an up-to-date permit. A boat can be pulled over by local maritime authorities, and it is usually to inspect the permit and safety equipment. These inspections are becoming more common, but the authorities usually do not worry about fish.
The only freshwater fishing is in Lake Gatún which is heavily populated with peacock bass.
Spear fishing is also a popular water sport offered by many tour companies, resorts, and fishing and boating tour groups. It is also a recreational activity, which doesn’t have regulations or restrictions.
All types of shark are caught. However, many local fishermen cut off the fin and throw the rest of the shark back. Panamanian maritime authorities have begun to police this type of shark fishing. Shark fishing in general is accepted in Panama, but not to kill the animal for its fin only. No law exists yet to protect sharks.
Fishing Seasons and Regulations
While there is no season for general fishing, and there is no limit to the number of fish that can be caught (with the exception of billfish and sailfish), a shrimp and lobster season is now enforced due to continual overfishing.
- 1 February to 11 April
- 1 September to 11 October
- 1 March to 1 July
Billfish and sailfish
The catching, killing or eating of billfish (and especially sailfish) is frowned upon, although there is no specific law against it. If a billfish or sailfish is caught, take a picture and then throw it back.
Isla Coiba is a national park and nature reserve. Anyone who wants to fish in this area has to pay $50.00 per boat, per week of fishing. To protect wildlife, fishing is catch and release only, and a boat must stay at least one mile off the coast of the island.
Panama is very serious about turtle conservation and it is prohibited to engage with or endanger turtles – anywhere. Fishing, baiting or catching turtles is illegal.
Turtles use Panama’s shores as nesting grounds and there are heavy fines and punishment for anyone caught remotely endangering the turtle population. Unless visiting a nature reserve with wildlife experts, stay well clear of turtles while in Panama.
There is the possibility of being offered a turtle product in various forms by locals. A soup or other dish containing turtle meat, or a souvenir or product made with turtle shell, should be refused. There could be consequences for consuming, carrying or exporting these products if caught, or if they are found in luggage.
Clubs and Organizations
There are a few fishing clubs and organizations, and some local clubs and groups that plan, host, or participate in fishing as events or special activities. English, however, is not spoken.
- Asociación Panameña de Pesca Submarina (APPES)
- Club Activo 20-30 de Panamá
- Club de Pescadores del Causeway Panamá
- Autoridad Maritima de Panamá (in Spanish)