If you've read my page What Are Bees? you'll know that bees are insects, arthropods and invertebrates.
You may also have read that bees are not bugs or mammals - but fish?
Before you read any further, I want to make the firm point that bees are not fish in any recognized scientific classification system.
What appears to have happened in the case of bees being classified as 'fish' in California, is a decision to allow the legal definition of a wildlife category (i.e. fish) to be broadened sufficiently to encompass other creatures where no specific and suitable alternative category (i.e. 'insects') exists.
That judges have come to this decision enables the protection of rare bee species, as well as other insect invertebrates.
Probably due to agricultural practices, four species of bumble bee are in danger of extinction in California. Those species are:
In 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission attempted to gain protection for these species by having them designated as endangered, threatened and candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
However, not surprisingly, they were met with opposition from the agricultural interests, such as the 'ALMOND ALLIANCE OF CALIFORNIA', who argued that under CESA, there was no provision for protection of insects, only "native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant".
The specific term 'insect' is not mentioned within the listed categories of protected wildlife.
It looks to me that there were three key principals at work here that were used to extend protection to the endangered bumble bees in California.
1. The legal definition of a 'fish' in California
From West's Annotated California Codes. Fish and Game Code. Division 0.5. General Provisions and Definitions. Chapter 1. General Definitions:
Note the word 'invertebrate' within the definition of 'fish'.
The judges stated that although the term 'fish' is in general, considered to refer to aquatic species, nevertheless, the term 'fish' can have a particular meaning within a legal context (in legal jargon 'a term of art' - a word having a particular meaning in a field).
This enabled the judges to interpret the term 'fish' more broadly than restrict the term to mean only 'aquatic species'.
2. A precedent had already been set
Supporting the above assertion that the term 'fish' is a 'term of art' that within a legal context, encompassed more than aquatic species, was the fact that other land-dwelling invertebrates had already gained protection under CESA's 'fish' category, including for example:
3. Liberal definition of law
The judges stated that the protection already extended to the land snail under the fish category, supported a liberal definition of the term 'fish'.
Although bees are insects, the use of the term 'fish' within a legal context is a 'word of art' that has been allowed to encompass a broad range of species.
As a result, the four threatened species of bumble bee can be given the protection they desperately need.
ALMOND ALLIANCE OF CALIFORNIA et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. FISH AND GAME COMMISSION et al., Defendants and Appellants; XERCES SOCIETY FOR INVERTEBRATE CONSERVATION et al., C093542 (Super. Ct. No. 34201980003216CUWMGDS)
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