California Supreme Court Decides Bumblebees Could Be Labeled as Fish

by Tia Bailey
Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images

The California Supreme Court made a surprising decision recently, and it’s not really political. They decided that bees may be protected as fish.

This sounds bizarre, but stick with us. The California Supreme Court ruled that bumblebees can be protected as fish under the California Endangered Species Act.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said that even though the law does not use the word ‘insects,’ sections of the law suggest that invertebrates may be grouped under the category of fish.” She also addressed that this does not mean “an affirmative determination by this court that under the law, bumblebees are fish.” This is simply a move to protect the bees in the state.

The number of bumblebees is pretty quickly declining, which lead the courts to protect them in the act. The Los Angeles Times also said: “For the last three years, state almond growers, builders and pesticide companies had been arguing that bumblebees were exempt from listing because the state conservation law does not mention insects.”

The argument was made about the wording prior to 1969. Section 45 of the act defined fish as “wild fish, mollusks, or crustaceans, including any part, spawn or ova thereof.” However, the Legislature was then amended, adding invertebrates and amphibia to the definition of “fish.”

According to Courthouse News, this was again changed in 2015. This definition read “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.”

The  California Department of Fish and Wildlife stated for years that insects were not included in the act.

Bumblebees Protected as Fish in Law, Not Actually Proclaimed to be Fish

After the court decided that bumblebees could be protected as fish, they continued to emphasize their point. They explained why they say that this does not mean bees are fish.

“These kinds of seemingly illogical outcomes can in fact best capture the enacting legislature’s intent in a variety of circumstances. A statute may be construed in a manner that goes beyond the literal meaning of its text to avoid an absurd result the Legislature could not possibly have contemplated. Sometimes courts perceive a scrivener’s error or typo that must be corrected to vindicate the intent behind a measure. Or the context surrounding the use of a word or phrase within a statute can convey that it carries an unusual meaning, peculiar to that law. The court of appeal below concluded that the interpretive question before it fell into the last of these categories, with the consequence that bumble bees should indeed be regarded as ‘fish’ under the CESA,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

The move is official, and now the insects are protected as part of the California Endangered Species Act.