Bees Are Now Fish in California

Thanks to a California appeals court, four species of bumble bees are now legally fish in the state. You really cannot make this stuff up.

The striking assertion by the court comes as protections are sought for bees – formerly known as insects – under the California Endangered Species Act. This measure protects animals falling into specific divisions such as a bird, mammal, fish, or amphibian.

However, as bees traditionally are not considered any of these, the court improvised. Sued by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the bench took a novel approach.

The California appeals court notes that frogs are also defined as fish by the state. Associate Justice Ronald Robie, in writing for the court, says that “fish” is “commonly understood to refer to aquatic species.” You think?

Since the 1970 Endangered Species Act defines which categories of animals are covered – and insects are clearly not listed – the legislature improvised.

In 2015, lawmakers added “invertebrate” to the state’s legal definition of a fish. Not possessing a backbone. Thus, bees.

The current mess began with a 2019 lawsuit brought against the California Fish and Game Commission by major agricultural groups in the state. The litigants claimed the commission erred when it declared four species of bumble bees as “endangered.”

In 2020, a Sacramento County Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the agricultural groups by defining bees as not being fish. The judge observed that the act targeted animals in marine habitats, not insects.

Activists say that reclassifying bumble bees as an endangered species is “absolutely essential” for their survival. No argument there, and their place in the ecosystem is no doubt essential. But does the end justify the means?

In a society that can no longer define what a “woman” is, it stands to reason that the slippery slope slides even further.

In all seriousness, if California wants to protect bumble bees or anything else, there is a time-honored method for making that happen. It’s called legislation.

Categorizing bees as fish, no matter the noble intentions, undermines the legitimacy of other laws that can and likely will be so obviously twisted beyond recognition to accomplish a goal — worthy or otherwise. The next time the courts reinvent the language, it may not be so amusing.