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Is a bee a fish? California court says it could be

Bees are now considered fish in some circumstances, a California court ruled.

A Sacramento appeals court ruled on May 31 that some bumblebees can legally be considered fish under the California Endangered Species Act, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Two bumblebees almost collide as they fly to a poppy flower on a field in Frankfurt, Germany, on Thursday, June 1, 2017. A Sacramento appeals court ruled on May 31 that some bumblebees can legally be considered fish under the California Endangered Species Act.
Michael Probst, Associated Press

Why did the court decide bees can be considered fish?

The debate over classifying bees as fish goes back to 2018 when three public interest groups — the Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the Defenders of Wildlife — wanted four types of bumblebees to be listed as endangered and to be protected under CESA, according to Slate

The problem? CESA protects “native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant.” 

Notably missing are insects.

The public interest groups argued, however, that bees actually fit under CESA’s definition of a fish: “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.” 

The key word here is “invertebrate.” Because bees are invertebrates, the four bumblebee species technically fit under CESA’s definition of “fish” and can therefore be protected in California as endangered species, the court initially ruled

However, the ruling was overturned in 2020 by the Sacramento County Superior Court when seven agricultural groups argued that “invertebrates” referred “only to marine invertebrates” — not insects, according to CNN.

California’s 3rd District Court of Appeal overruled that decision, and on May 31 ruled that bees actually do fit under the definition of “fish.”

“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,” the court wrote in its ruling.

How will the ruling affect bees? 

Four species of bumblebees — the Crotch bumblebee, the Franklin bumblebee, the Suckley cuckoo bumblebee and the Western bumblebee — are now eligible to officially become endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act, CNN reported.

“Essentially, it will protect colonies of these bumblebee species from being killed intentionally,” said Sarina Jepsen, a spokesperson for Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, per The Sacramento Bee.

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