Panama Kingfish, Menticirrhus panamensis
The Panama Kingfish, Menticirrhus panamensis, whose common Spanish name is berragato panameño, is a species in the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas and corvinas in Mexico. Globally, there are only nine species in the genus Menticirrhus, of which eight are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.
The Panama Kingfish have elongated compressed bodies with a flat belly and a rounded cross-section. They have an overall silvery gray-brown coloration with a brownish head, dusky fins (except for the pectoral fins which are jet black and provide a key to identification), and whitish pelvic fins. The lower lobe of their caudal fin has a black tinge. Their head is long with small eyes and a low conical snout that projects beyond the horizontal mouth. They have a short thick barbel on their snouts Their anal fin has one weak spine and eight or nine rays and their caudal fin is “S”-shaped. They have two separated dorsal fins, the first with 9 or 10 spines and the second with one spine and 18 to 22 rays with the first . Their pectoral fins are long and reach past the end of their pelvic fins. They have a prominent lateral line that extends into the posterior edge of their caudal fin. They have 3 to 8 short gill rakers and are covered with rough scales.
The Panama Kingfish are found demersal over sandy bottoms along the shore and in the surf zone and inshore bays at depths up to 350 feet. They reach a maximum length of 70 cm (30 inches). They consume sand crabs, small fish, and invertebrates.
In Mexican waters the Panama Kingfish are found in all waters of the Pacific with the exception that they are absent from the east coast of the Baja within the Sea of Cortez and from Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.
The Panama Kingfish is not straightforward to identify and can easily be confused with the California Corbina, Menticirrhus undulatus (short first dorsal fin; mid-sized pectoral fins; 9 to 15 gill rakers), the Highfin Kingfish, Menticirrhus nasus (large eyes; elongated dorsal fin; large fan-like pectoral fins), the Paita Kingfish, Menticirrhus paitensis (dusky fins), and the Slender Kingfish, Menticirrhus elongatus (pale yellow fins).
The Panama Kingfish are uncommon but can be caught off the beach on rare occasions with bottom rigs baited with soft shelled sand crabs. They are considered excellent table fare.