WASHINGTON (TND) — A California appeals court has ruled four species of bumblebees are legally fish.
And no, this is not a story out of the satirical website The Onion. Rather, it involves the legal definition of bees when it comes to the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
This all stems from a 2019 lawsuit between large agricultural groups in the state — such as almond and citrus growers — and the California Fish and Game Commission.
The commission wanted to list four bumblebee species — the Crotch, the Western, the Suckley Cuckoo, and the Franklin species — as endangered.
To do so, the commission said bees are invertebrates, therefore falling under CESA's definition of fish.
In its ruling, the appeals court stated:
"The California Endangered Species Act ... directs the Fish and Game Commission ... to 'establish a list of endangered species and a list of threatened species.' The issue presented here is whether the bumble bee, 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. More specifically, we must determine whether the Commission exceeded its statutorily delegated authority when it designated four bumble bee species as candidate species under consideration for listing as endangered species."
California agricultural groups disagreed, saying listing bees as fish goes against CESA.
In the initial trial, in 2020, the court backed the agricultural groups, saying that not all invertebrates are protected under CESA. That ruling caused the California Fish and Game Commission to remove bees from its list.
On Tuesday, a state appeals court reversed the 2020 ruling, once again stating that bees fall under the definition of fish.
The court ruled the state's fish and game commission has the legal authority to list invertebrate species as endangered, even if they are not aquatic animals.
"We next consider whether the Commission’s authority is limited to listing only aquatic invertebrates," the ruling stated. "We conclude the answer is, “no.” Although the term fish is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature in the definition of fish in section 45 is not so limited.
"We acknowledge the scope of the definition is ambiguous but also recognize we are not interpreting the definition on a blank slate. The legislative history supports the liberal interpretation of the Act (the lens through which we are required to construe the Act) that the Commission may list any invertebrate as an endangered or threatened species. We thus agree with the Commission, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department), and intervenors Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Food Safety (collectively public interest groups) that the trial court erred when it reached a contrary conclusion.
"We accordingly reverse the judgment."
Amphibians, like frogs, are also listed as fish under the state's definition.