SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A California appeals court has ruled that bumblebees can be legally classified as “fish.”
The case centered around California’s Endangered Species Act, which was one of the first in the United States when it was signed by then-governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The law grants protections to any “bird, mammal, fish, amphibia or reptile” whose status was threatened.
In 2018, three groups asked the Fish and Game Commission to add four species of bumblebee to the endangered species list, Reuters reported. The commission quickly named all four “candidate species,” which offered temporary protections while the animals were considered for placement on the list.
Seven agricultural groups, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, challenged whether bees could be legally protected under the law, saying that insects aren’t listed, Reuters reported.
The court, in its ruling, said that “because the definition of fish in Section 45 includes invertebrates, and because bumblebees are invertebrates, bumblebees may be listed under the CESA as fish.”
Judge Ronald Robie, who wrote the 3-0 ruling, acknowledged that “A fish, as the term is commonly understood in everyday parlance, of course, lives in aquatic environments,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. But Robie also noted that when lawmakers approved the current law in 1984, they knew that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which enforced the law, had protected invertebrates living on land. Rather than changing the law, protections were extended to animals like the Trinity bristle snail, and thus the same logic must be extended to bees, the newspaper reported.
The groups that had fought for the bees’ protection celebrated the decision and its potential impacts.
“With one out of every three bites of food we eat coming from a crop pollinated by bees, this court decision is critical to protecting our food supply,” Rebecca Spector, west coast director at Center For Food Safety, one of the groups fighting for bees’ protection, said in a statement. “The decision clarifies that insects such as bees qualify for protections under CESA, which are necessary to ensure that populations of endangered species can survive and thrive.”
The lead attorney representing the agriculture groups said in an email to Reuters that they were “disappointed” and were reviewing the decision before deciding whether to move forward with another appeal.
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