Bees Are Fish, California Court Rules

To get bumble bees protections from agricultural practices, judges determined that bees could actually be considered fish.
A bumble bee with purple flowers.
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Thanks to a legal loophole that allows for things that aren’t fish to legally be fish, bees are now fish, according to California’s courts.

In a ruling filed on Tuesday in California’s appellate court, a panel of three judges determined that in order to protect threatened bumble bee species, they could be considered fish under the law.

Bumble bees are under threat, mostly from the agricultural industry’s use of pesticides and monoculture farming. In 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission determined that four species of bumble bee—Crotch, Franklin’s, Western, and Suckley’s cuckoo—might be candidates for endangered and threatened species protections. 

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Agricultural interest groups, including the Almond Alliance of California, the California Association of Pest Control Advisers, California Citrus Mutual, and California Cotton Ginners sued to keep the bees off the list. As legal analysis blog Law & Crime explained: “They argued that the [California Endangered Species Act]  does not allow the Commission to designate any insects as endangered, threatened, or candidate species because insects are not included in the statute’s enumerated categories of wildlife entitled to such legal protections.” 

The opinion is 35 pages of debate and legal explanation on what makes a fish a fish. The Trinity bristle snail, a land-dwelling snail that was classified as a fish in order to make it onto the threatened species list in 1980, set the precedent for deciding that a fish doesn’t have to be something that swims—and by that logic, bees, too, are fish. 

The ruling concludes that “fish” can be considered a legal “term of art,” and not taken to mean a literal aquatic vertebrate. 

“We generally give words their usual and ordinary meaning,” Justice Ronald Robie writes in the opinion. “Where, however, the Legislature has provided a technical definition of a word, we construe the term of art in accordance with the technical meaning. In performing this function, we are tasked with liberally construing the Act to effectuate its remedial purpose.” 

In other words, bees are fish.