Bumblebees are fish, rules US court. Understanding what that means
Bumblebees can now be legally classified as fish, a California court said. The ruling allows the state to apply for the protection of endangered bees
Are bumblebees insects or are they fish? They can now be legally classified as fish, said a California appeals court in the United States in a ruling.
The fish status
Since bumblebees are now fish, they are eligible for protection as endangered and threatened under California law.
The decision came on Tuesday after state wildlife officials were sued by agricultural groups for attempting to list four bumblebee species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
The Sacramento-based California Court of Appeal ruled that CESA can be used to protect threatened or endangered invertebrates, including four species of imperilled native bumblebees.
The appeals court reversed a lower court’s ruling for seven agricultural groups who argued that the Act expressly protects only “birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants”, not insects.
Under CESA, an “endangered species” can be a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant. However, this definition could leave out other threatened species, such as insects.
While “fish” is “commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature… is not so limited,” Associate Justice Ronald Robie wrote for the appeals court.
The judge wrote that CESA itself does not define “fish,” but the law is part of the California Fish and Game Code. The code’s definition includes any “mollusc, crustacean, invertebrate (or) amphibian,” Robie added. All those categories “encompass terrestrial and aquatic species,” and the state legislature has already approved the listing of at least one land-based mollusc, the opinion said, according to a Reuters report.
Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumblebee species – the Crotch’s bumblebee, Franklin’s bumblebee, Suckley cuckoo bumblebee, and Western bumblebee – may be listed as an endangered or threatened species, the ruling said.
Protecting California’s biodiversity
The verdict is a big win for environmental groups and California’s Fish and Game Commission who were attempting to list four bumblebee species as endangered.
“It is a great day for California’s bumblebees. Today’s decision confirms that California Endangered Species Act protections apply to all of our state’s imperilled native species and is critical to protecting our state’s renowned biodiversity,” said Pamela Flick, from Defenders of Wildlife, said in a release.
“Bees and other pollinators are integral to healthy ecosystems and the crucial pollination services they provide serve all of us, making this decision exponentially more consequential,” she added.
“The Court’s decision allows California to protect some of its most endangered pollinators, a step which will contribute to the resilience of the state’s native ecosystems and farms,” said Sarina Jepsen from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a science-based nonprofit.
Matthew Sanders of Stanford Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic hailed the decision as “a win for the bumblebees”. Insects are “foundational to California’s agricultural production and healthy ecosystems,” he added.
Threats to insects
Insects like bees face a variety of threats, from pesticides to the climate crisis. The population of the American bumblebee, once abundant and found across the United States, is sharply declining. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the species' population has dropped nearly 90 per cent.
Twenty-eight per cent of North American bumblebees are facing extinction, says the Xerces Society.
It’s not just bees but the world over insects are in danger. Climate change and loss of habitat are affecting the insect population, which could have a serious impact on pollination and food sources for other wildlife.
With inputs from agencies
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