California court rules that bees are a type of fish in order to protect them under the state's endangered species act

California court rules that bees are a type of fish in order to protect them under the state's endangered species act
Image for illustration purposes only. Bee pictured is not Californian.Robert Pickett/Getty Images
  • Judges ruled on Tuesday that bumble bees can be classed as fish under California environmental laws.
  • This unlocks protections for the state's four endangered bumble bee species.

A trio of judges in California said on Tuesday that bees can be legally classed as a type of fish as part of a ruling that brings added conservation protections for the endangered species.

"The issue presented here is whether the bumble bee, a terrestrial invertebrate, falls within the definition of fish," the judges wrote in their ruling. And, they concluded, it does.

Formerly, the problem for bee-lovers — and lovers of all Californian terrestrial invertebrates — was down to the way protected animals have been classified in the state's laws.

Although four different bee species were classified as endangered in 2018, land invertebrates are not explicitly protected under the state's Endangered Species Act (CESA), which protects endangered "native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant."

But CESA's Fish and Game Code, which establishes the basis on which plants and animals are protected, defines "fish" as "a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals."


Given that many of the above marine creatures aren't even fish, California has been arguing ever since about whether "invertebrates" here should apply to bees.

The appeal overturns an earlier ruling in November 2020 that was backed by major agricultural groups, Law & Crime reported. There, the judge argued that "invertebrates" in the Fish and Game Code's "fish" definition only applied to marine invertebrates, like anemones or sea urchins.

But on Tuesday's appeal, the judges argued that they are obliged to "liberally" interpret CESA's terms in order to make sure it can be effective.

"Although the term fish is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species," the judges said, legislative jargon in this case could be justified in expanding the definition to include bees.

The judges noted that frogs are also protected under the "fish" section, due to its inclusion of amphibians.


They also argued that land-based invertebrates have been protected under the category of "fish" under the statute in the past, such as in 1980 when the Trinity bristle snail was protected.

The judges described how California's legislature has wavered for years over whether or not to explicitly include invertebrates in the Act, presumably saving them the trouble of having to expand the definition of fish.

In one instance in 1985, the judges said, lawmakers reasoned it was unnecessary because "invertebrates were already included in the definition of fish."

"'Adding the term invertebrates in the legislation would only serve to confuse the matter,'" they cited lawmakers as saying.

"It is a great day for California's bumble bees," said Pamela Flick, California Program Director at Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups that brought the appeal, in a press statement following the ruling.