by Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash

A California court declared bumblebees are legally considered fish in a ruling announced this week. 

The ruling concerns the legal definition of bumblebees under the California Endangered Species Act. Large agricultural groups sued the California Fish and Game Commission sued to determine “whether the bumble bee, a terrestrial invertebrate, falls within the definition of fish, as that term is used in the definitions of endangered species,” according to legal documents.

Specifically, the California State Appellate Court of the Third District had to determine whether the commission “exceeded its statutorily delegated authority when designated four bumble bee species as candidate species under consideration for listing as endangered species,” court documents read. 

The judge’s ruling said “the legislative history supports the liberal interpretation of fish, which is “ is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species.”

“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,” according to the judge’s ruling. 

The judge ruled “that the trial court erred when it reached a contrary conclusion”. According to the ruling, the court agreed 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. 

“We accordingly reverse the judgment,” court documents read. 

Prior to 1969, the law defined fish as “wild fish, mollusks, or crustaceans, including any part, spawn or ova thereof”. The Legislature amended section 42 of Senate Bill No. 858 to add invertebrates and amphibia to the definition of fish. 

According to court documents, Section 45 had been amended only once since 1969. Legislature in 2015 made “nonsubstantive stylistic changes”, modifying the definition to read “[f]ish’ means a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”

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