A three-judge California state appellate court ruled on Tuesday that bees are in fact “fish” protected under the state’s Endangered Species Act.
In 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission motioned to protect four different bumblebee species facing potential extinction, prompting various agricultural businesses (almond growers, citrus farmers, cotton ginners, etc.) to file suit. The growers argued that the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) did not allow for the designation of insects as endangered due to the fact they were not listed in the categories of wildlife when the law was first enacted. Per Law & Crime:
The Commission countered, saying that the definition of fish can and should encapsulate bees and other similarly situated invertebrates because, in part, it already does in practice. At least one species of shrimp, snail and crayfish are listed under the CESA. The listing of the Trinity bristle snail is particularly instructive, the Commission argued.
That’s because the snail, the commissioners note, does not even live in the water and was categorized as “threatened” in 1980. The way the snail got on the list was by being classified as a “fish.” Since the bristle snail is a terrestrial species, the Commission argues, “fish” cannot be limited to animals that inhabit a marine environment.
Though a 2020 district court initially sided with the agricultural groups, the appellate court on Tuesday overturned the decision.
“We generally give words their usual and ordinary meaning,” the court said in its decision. “Where, however, the Legislature has provided a technical definition of a word, we construe the term of art in accordance with the technical meaning. In performing this function, we are tasked with liberally construing the Act to effectuate its remedial purpose.”
California courts have routinely ruled over the past two decades that environmental protection laws “are of great remedial and public importance” and “construed liberally,” which roughly translates into greater protection for wildlife. With that reasoning, the court argued that the word “fish” is a “legal term of art that previously included a ‘terrestrial mollusk’ under section 2607,” according to Law & Crime.
“Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumble bee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species under the Act,” the decision said.