Bizarre Facts: California Rules Bees Can be Fish?

On May 31, California’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled that bees could legally be considered fish.

The court reversed a lower court’s ruling for seven agriculture groups who argued that the California Endangered Species Act only protects birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants, but not insects.

“The issue presented here is whether the bumblebee, a terrestrial invertebrate, falls within the definition of fish, as that term is used in the definitions of endangered species in section 2062, threatened species in section 2067, and candidate species (i.e., species being considered for listing as endangered or threatened species) in section 2068 of the Act,” wrote California’s Third District Court of Appeal in its ruling.

Passed in 1970, CESA directed the Fish and Game Commission to “establish a list of endangered species and a list of threatened species.”

The act has undergone several amendments, including the most recent 2016 stylistic modification, which defines fish as “‘[f]ish’ means a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”

Expanding the definition of fish authorized the Fish and Game Commission to make regulations necessary to protect species like starfish and sea urchins appropriately.

In Oct. 2018, public interest groups petitioned the Commission to list four species of bumble bee as endangered: the Crotch bumble bee, the Franklin bumble bee, the Suckley cuckoo bumble bee, and the Western bumble bee.

In 2019 the Commission accepted the petition for consideration, filed a notice for information, and then accepted the species as candidate species.

Later that year, petitioners challenged the decision and said the Commission was outside its legal duty; the trial court granted the writ petition.

The trial court concluded that “the word ‘invertebrates’ as it appears in [s]ection 45’s definition of ‘fish’ clearly denotes invertebrates connected to a marine habitat, not insects such as bumble bees.”

The court tossed out previous cases stating that the Legislature did not intend the act to encompass insects and that the Commission was overstepping.

In the appeal, the court brought up several previous case studies, which show the Commission’s previous decisions were supported by Legislature and the government.

On June 27, 1980, the Commission unanimously voted to create an amendment protecting terrestrial invertebrates, including the Trinity bristle snail and Smith’s blue butterfly. Minutes from the meeting show that Deputy Attorney General Denis Smaage found the Commission well within its rights to classify insects as rare and endangered.

Using the legislative history, the court ultimately decided that the scope of the definition for fish is ambiguous, and the legislative history supports the interpretation of the act. Therefore, the court overturned the previous decision and ruled the Commission could ultimately list any invertebrate as an endangered or threatened species.

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