The California Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that bumblebees are the same as fish in the eyes of the law — and the judges were not referring to the tuna company.
Instead, bumblebees can now be considered for protection by the California Fish and Game Commission as an endangered species, the Third District Court of Appeals ruled in May.
The bees are invertebrates, which were added back under the umbrella designation of “fish” in a 2015 change to the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
The ruling was prompted by an appeal by the California Fish and Game Commission, which argued that, even though the bumblebee is a land invertebrate, it still falls under the legal protections for “fish.”
Justice Ronald Robie, with Justices Coleman Blease and Andrea Hoch, agreed with their interpretation.
“A fish, as the term is commonly understood in everyday parlance, of course, lives in aquatic environments. As the Department and the Commission note, however, the technical definition in section 45 includes mollusks, invertebrates, amphibians, and crustaceans, all of which encompass terrestrial and aquatic species,” the appellate court opinion reads.
The Third District Court of Appeals also noted that, when a 1984 law replaced the original CESA, protections for a terrestrial mollusk, the Trinity bristle snail, were kept. Allowing the snail, itself an invertebrate, indicated that bumblebee species could be included as well.
The California Supreme Court denied a petition for review by the Almond Alliance of California and other plaintiffs, allowing the appellate ruling to go into effect.
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye noted, however, that “Our denial of a petition for review does not communicate any particular view regarding the merits of the issues presented in the petition,” and that it should not be taken as affirmation that bumblebees are fish under the law.
Activist groups, whose efforts had initially been blunted by the lower court decision in favor of agricultural interests, supported the ruling and the subsequent Supreme Court decision.
“We are elated with the California Supreme Court’s decision. Now, some of California’s most endangered pollinators may be saved from extinction,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
The agricultural groups, including the Almond Alliance of California, said they are disappointed in the decision and its ramifications for future pro-insect petitions.
“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which for years took the public position that insects cannot be listed, is ill-equipped to handle the petitions to protect a range of insects that are headed its way,” Paul Weiland, a lawyer for the groups, told the Associated Press.