Something Fishy

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In every print issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


(Photo: Brian Skerry)

  • Some 600,000 fish, mostly cobia, live in the aquaculture company Open Blue’s netted fish farms a few miles off the Caribbean coast of Panama’s Colón Province.
  • Global demand for fish has roughly doubled since 1973. Over three-quarters of the world’s species are at or near depletion. To dissuade people from eating fish, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals re-named them “sea kittens” for a 2009 campaign.
  • Between 2003 and 2009, commercial fishing had the highest fatal-injury rate of any occupation in the United States.
  • Seventeenth- and 18th-century Amerindians — pre-European indigenous Caribbeans who practiced handline fishing — used the term “Máticatioüe” to express reproach to a man who does not know how to fish.
  • Panama is one of the wealthiest and least corrupt countries in Central America.
  • Thanks to an ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, a thriving banking sector, and lax regulatory standards, the country enjoys one of the region’s fastest growth rates.
  • Construction was temporarily halted on the canal expansion project last year as costs skyrocketed beyond estimates. According to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, the vice president of Panama confided in the American ambassador to Panama in December of 2009: “The canal expansion project is a disaster. In two or three years it will be obvious this was all a failure.”
  • A 1996 lawsuit led by a Wall Street hedge fund against Panama, over sovereign debt the country could not re-pay, helped give rise to so-called vulture funds — “an industry of professional suers of foreign states,” as one legal scholar put it.
  • The same fund secured a nearly 400 percent return on an investment in Argentinean debt after a 15-year legal battle that ended in March. Paul Singer, the hedge fund’s chief executive officer, was presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s top donor and once piano-jammed onstage with Meat Loaf.
  • Echoing many neoconservatives in making the case for the Iraq War, the columnist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson argued that the U.S.’s 1989 invasion of Panama to arrest the country’s strongman leader, Manuel Noriega, demonstrated “the power of legitimate governments over dictatorships.”
  • From 1898 to 1994, the U.S. government intervened militarily to remove Latin American nations’ government leadership at least 41 times.
  • “It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming,” wrote John Steinbeck in a 1954 essay for Sports Illustrated.