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Bees are fish, California court rules

The decision comes after a lengthy legal dispute to list four species of bumblebees as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You’ve seen bumblebees buzzing by, collecting pollen from flowers to make honey. But, have you ever seen one underwater?

Probably not. However, a California appeals court says they don’t have to be underwater to be legally considered fish in the state.

The ruling comes after a legal dispute that started in 2019 between the California Fish and Game Commission and major agricultural groups. The Commission wanted to list four species of bumblebees as endangered species. Those species are the Crotch, Franklin, Suckley, and Western bumblebees.

Their reason for listing bees under “fish?” The Commission says bees are invertebrates, falling under the California Endangered Species Act’s (CESA) definition of fish. But, agricultural groups that include almond, citrus, and cotton growers disagree, calling it a violation of CESA.

During the first trial in 2020, the court ruled in favor of these agricultural groups, finding CESA doesn’t protect all invertebrates. After the ruling, the Commission took bumblebees off the list and appealed the court’s decision.

Now, the Court of Appeal of the State of California’s Third Appellate District has reversed the decision, disagreeing with the original ruling about CESA’s definition of a fish.  

“We next consider whether the Commission’s authority is limited to listing only aquatic invertebrates. We conclude the answer is, ‘no,’” the ruling reads.

The appeals court concluded CESA’S definition of fish is a “term of art,” and isn’t limited to aquatic species. It goes on to say the Commission may list any invertebrate as an endangered or threatened species.

The court also noted animals like frogs fall under CESA’s definition of fish, as it includes amphibians.

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