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FACT CHECK | False information about local parrotfish shared online anew

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MindaNews fact-checked a Facebook claim being circulated anew that the catching and selling of parrotfish in the Philippines is banned. The post is false, as there is no such law in the country.

A Facebook post about parrotfish that went viral two years ago has been shared online anew.

In an item that she posted last March 27, 2022 and accompanied by an image of parrotfish (locally known as molmol or loro), Facebook user Weng Rct Taneo said:

“May nakita po ako nagtitinda neto gusto ko sya kausapin na bawal magbenta o bilhin itong isda na ito…(I saw somebody selling this, I wanted to tell him it’s forbidden to either sell or buy this fish)

“Parrot fishes spend 90% of their day eating algae and dead coral. They clean our reefs. This makes them an important part of our ecosystem. Most of the reefs across the tropics are full of algae due to overfishing of the parrot fish and other herbivores. The parrot fish also poops up to 700 pounds of fine white sand annually.

“Their existence is essential so avoid eating them. Educate your friends and family to raise awareness. Say no to catching parrot fishes. Don’t purchase them from the markets.”

As of April 12, the post has generated 38,000 reactions and 88,000 shares.

The post, which is being shared online anew, lacks context, and the claim that catching and selling parrotfish is banned is false, as there is no such a national law in the Philippines.

In a March 2021 Manila Bulletin article about the subject, writer Yvette Tan, quoting scientists, warned about the misinformation being spread about the conservation status of parrotfishes and the danger it poses on fisherfolk:

“Parrotfishes are found under the Family Labridae. They were formerly classified as Family Scaridae, but this has since been corrected. They are now considered as a tribe in the Family Labridae together with wrasses (Cheilini and Labrini). Found in tropical waters, parrotfishes are key components of coral reef ecosystems because of their roles in herbivory and reef bioerosion.

“Some species are considered endangered in the Caribbean. This led to an information campaign which has gotten international coverage. This is probably what prompted well-meaning dive shop owners in the Philippines to take it upon themselves to protect local parrotfish as well. There’s just one problem: they aren’t endangered, and it’s actually legal to catch them.”

Maybelle Fortaleza, a University Research Associate for Coral Reef Resiliency and Ecology Studies Laboratory in UP Mindanao, was quoted in the same article as saying:

“Honestly, I have no idea what their intentions are. I really dislike how these dive shops in the PH owned or co-owned by foreigners are trying to explain situations in the Philippines as if they really worked on the ground. I would like to emphasize that this is not limited to dive shops/dive shop owners. Anyone who is misinformed but has a large platform can cause equal harm to fisherfolk communities.

“It’s hard for us local scientists to beat misinformation especially when 1) these Facebook pages have stronger and wider reach and that 2) their page admins choose to ignore our comments, even private messages. This is harmful because if they frame the situation on conservation of parrotfishes, they become unaware of the consequences simply because they are not directly affected by it. What we wanted to say is that the 1) ‘facts’ they were spreading about parrotfishes is inaccurate and outdated and that 2) saving the parrotfishes is not the panacea to the current climate/environmental crisis.”

“The bumphead parrotfish, Bolbometopon muricatum is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Fishermen are aware they are not allowed to catch and/or sell this species. The rest of the parrotfish species are listed in the IUCN as Least Concern. This only means more scientific studies are needed in order to elevate their conservation status and proceed with proper management measures if needed,” Fortaleza added.

Section 102 of Republic Act 10654 (An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unreported Fishing), which amended Republic Act 8550 (The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998) states: It shall be unlawful to fish or take, catch, gather, sell, purchase, possess, transport, export, forward or ship out aquatic species listed in Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), or those categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as threatened and determined by the Department as such.

Department refers to the Department of Agriculture.

In an article, Gregg Yan, executive director of Best Alternatives, an environmental nonprofit group, also debunked the information being spread around that without parrotfish, coral reefs will wither and die.

“This might be so if parrotfish dined purely on fast-growing hair algae, but as above, they mostly target cyanobacteria growing on reef surfaces,” he said, adding, “Many other grazers do a better job at keeping visible algae from choking off coral reefs—like rabbitfish, damselfish and most especially surgeonfish, something I investigated in the Tubbataha Reefs in 2013.”

“A 2015 study by Dr. Angel Alcala and other scientists found no significant correlation between the presence of parrotfish, hard coral cover and algae,” he said.

The late Alcala, a marine biologist, served as environment secretary under the Ramos administration.

“A recent review of studies around the globe concluded that there’s almost no empirical support for the idea that protecting parrotfish prevents coral reef decline,” Yan quoted Dr. Rene Abesamis, a marine scientist, as saying. 

Abesamis added: “These notions can distract us from addressing the true drivers of coral reef decline, such as siltation, pollution, destructive fishing practices and climate change.”

As with all our other reports, MindaNews welcomes leads or suggestions from the public to potential fact-check stories. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)

MindaNews is the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism. It is composed of independent, professional journalists who believe and practice people empowerment through media.

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About MindaNews Fact Check

MindaNews Fact Check seeks to fight misinformation and disinformation circulating on the internet, news platforms and communities that we serve. 

What is MindaNews Fact Check?

MindaNews Fact Check tracks and debunks fake news, false claims and misleading statements of government officials, civil society leaders and netizens being spread on the internet, especially on social media sites. MindaNews values truth and accuracy in performing our journalistic work.

Why we fact-check?

Politicians, government officials and other public and private figures at times tend to bend facts to suit or advance their vested interests, or their principals, in effect misleading the public. The distorted facts spread easily with the popularity of the internet and the wide influence of social media.

As independent journalists, our primordial duty is to tell the truth and present facts to help the public discern issues and concerns impacting their lives.

How do we rate claims?

FAKE -  if the claim is completely invented.

FALSE - if the claim contradicts, undermines or disputes truthful facts, actual events and official records (i.e. laws and scientific studies)

MISLEADING – if the claim is based on truth but maliciously twisted that gives a different impression to serve a group or individual’s vested interests.

ALTERED – pertains to images or videos that were manipulated to mislead the public.

MISSING CONTEXT – if the claim needs more clarification or contextualization to make it clearer.

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We post our fact-checked stories in mindanews.com, on Facebook and Twitter with links to the original piece. We have a dedicated fact check page, where all fact-checked stories can be found. 

How did MindaNews Fact Check start?

Since its establishment in 2001, MindaNews has been living up to its vision of being the “leading provider of accurate, timely and comprehensive news and information on Mindanao and its peoples, serving economically, politically and culturally empowered communities” and its mission to “professionally and responsibly cover Mindanao events, peoples and issues to inform, educate, inspire and influence communities.”

MindaNews was founded by reporters precisely to ensure that reports about Mindanao, an island grouping that has suffered misinformation and disinformation long before these words became fashionable, are accurate. 

Our policy has always been to ensure that reports are thoroughly vetted before they are dispatched and uploaded on our website. 

Our fact-checking initiative with a uniform format started in October 2021 as part of Internews’ pioneering Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator (PFCI) project. Internews is an international non-profit that supports independent media from 100 countries. 

Prior to the PFCI project, MindaNews co-founded Tsek.ph, a collaboration among Philippine media institutions to fight disinformation and misinformation during the 2019. Tsek.ph did the same thing for the 2022 elections. 

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MindaNews has sustained its operation through proceeds from subscriptions of its news service  (news, special reports, opinion pieces, photos) and sales of books. It also receives grants from non-state actors.  Editorial prerogative, however, is left entirely to MindaNews. 

MindaNews does not accept funds from politicians or domestic or foreign states for its fact-checking initiative. For the other operations of MindaNews as a media organization in the past two years, we have received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which we use for coverage, staff compensation, administrative expenses and to train other journalists.

MindaNews Fact Check is supported by a grant from Internews.

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MindaNews encourages the public to provide us with leads not only for potential fact-check pieces but other news stories as well of interest to the general public.

Our fact checks include this paragraph encouraging readers to be part of the process: “As with all our other reports, MindaNews welcomes leads or suggestions from the public to potential fact check pieces.”

MindaNews Fact Check - Methodology

What standards do you follow when fact-checking?

As a news organization, we strictly adhere to accuracy, fairness, balance, independence, accountability and transparency not just in our fact-checking initiative but in all other aspects of our work at MindaNews.

We abide by the Philippine Press Institute’s Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Since we became part of Internews’ Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator project, we have been striving to adhere with the IFCN Code of Principles, in step with our organization’s commitment to non-partisanship, transparency and fairness.

We fact-check a claim that is specifically claimed to be a fact and involved the public interest or the welfare of the people. We debunk false claims using official government records, journals or interviews with experts. 

We don’t fact-check opinions.

How do we fact-check?

Step 1: Team members monitor press conferences, speeches, statements, news, interviews, social media sites, etc. for statements worth fact-checking.

Step 2: When a claim is worth fact-checking, a team member looks for multiple sources to dispute the claim, including tracing the original source document.

Step 3:  Fact-checked claims are then submitted to the editor for copy editing and vetting. The link/s to debunk the claim are always included in the story.  

Step 4: A rating card is prepared to accompany the fact-checked piece, or infographics if needed, to immediately flag readers what the article is all about. 

Step 5: The senior editor takes another look before the article is posted on the website and social media accounts.

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Consistent with our vision and mission as a media institution, we rectify any error committed. If you spot a factual error, you may notify us thru editor@mindanews.com or our Facebook Messenger @Mindanews.

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  • The fact-checker is immediately notified for verification. 

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  • Readers will immediately know errors have been corrected through the Editor’s note posted above the article. 

  • The person who notified MindaNews about the error will be informed that the correction has been made.

About MindaNews

MindaNews is the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism (MinJourn). It is composed of independent, professional journalists who believe and practice people empowerment through media. MinJourn, which is duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission with registration number CN201700385, is managed by its Board of Directors.

MindaNews values its journalistic independence. It started in May 2001 as a media cooperative and in January 2017 registered as a nonstock, nonprofit media organization.  We do not  accept funding from politicians, political parties or partisan groups.

Editorial staff

Fact-checking Unit: Romer (Bong) Sarmiento, Yas D. Ocampo


Mindanao Institute of Journalism


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President & CEO: Jowel Canuday, D.Phil. (oxon.)
Vice President: Romer S. Sarmiento

Carolyn O. Arguillas, M.A.
Rhodora Gail T. Ilagan, Ph.D.
Amalia B. Cabusao (Doc Can.)
Robert D. Timonera
Ellen P. Alinea