California bees are now legally fish for your protection

(CNN) — A California court came to an intriguing conclusion: It ruled that bees can legally be considered fish under certain circumstances.

The ruling, published on May 31, reverses an earlier ruling that bumblebees could not be considered “fish” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

“The question that arises 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 of article 2062, of threatened species of article 2067 and candidate species (i.e., species being considered for listing as endangered or threatened) under section 2068 of the Act,” the California Third District Court of Appeals wrote in its ruling.

A bumblebee pollinates a California poppy in San Jose, California.

California’s Endangered Species Act was designed to protect “native species or subspecies of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, or plants.”

Notably, invertebrates are absent from the list of protected species.

But in a lucky loophole for insects, molluscs, and other creatures that fall under the term “invertebrate,” the law itself defines a “fish” as “a wild fish, mollusc, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.

Why are bees so important? 0:43

Expanding the definition of fish to include invertebrates makes them eligible for greater protection from the Fish and Game Commission, the court wrote.

In 2018, several public interest groups petitioned for the listing of four bumblebee species as endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act: Crotch bumblebee, Franklin bumblebee, Suckley cuckoo bumblebee, and western bumblebee. .

In 2020, the Sacramento County Superior Court found that “invertebrates” included in the definition of fish referred only to marine invertebrates, not insects such as bumblebees, and that the California Fish and Game Commission lacked authority to list invertebrates under the law.

Tuesday’s ruling overturned the decision, finding that the term “fish” can include bumblebees, at least as far as California’s endangered species law is concerned.

“Although the term “fish” is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term used by the legislature in the definition of fish in section 45 is not so limited,” the court said in its ruling.

The repeal means bumblebees can now be listed under California’s Endangered Species Act. The conservation victory comes at a time when bumblebees face serious decline across the United States due to climate change.

There are fewer wild bees on public records 0:46

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, one of several nonprofit organizations petitioning California to protect bumblebees, celebrated the legal victory in a press release.

“We welcome today’s decision that insects and other invertebrates can be protected by CESA,” Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society, said in the statement.

“The Court’s decision allows California to protect some of its most endangered pollinators, a step that will contribute to the resilience of native ecosystems and state farms.”