In 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission moved to safeguard four distinct bumblebee species that are at risk of disappearing. The move is causing a number of agriculture firms (almond growers, cotton ginners, citrus farmers, and so on) to bring lawsuits. The growers have claimed that the bees were not covered by the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), which did not permit the labeling of insects as endangered because they weren't listed as wildlife species the first time the statute was adopted. According to Law & Crime, the Commission responded by saying that “fish” as a concept could be used to encompass bees as well as other invertebrates that are similarly situated because it has already been done in practice.
And one species of snail, shrimp, and crayfish is listed under the CESA. The listing for the Trinity bristle snail is especially informative, the Commission argued. The reason for this is that the snail, according to the Commission, doesn't even reside in water and was classified in the category of “threatened” in 1980. The method by which the snail ended up being listed was through the “fish” classification since the bristle snail is a terrestrial animal—as the Commission insists that “fish” cannot be limited to animals that live in an aquatic environment.
Although a district court in 2020 initially sided with agriculture groups, the appeal judge on Tuesday reversed the ruling. “We generally give words their usual and ordinary meaning,” the court wrote in its ruling. “Where, however, it is the case that the Legislature has given the technical definition for an expression, we interpret the word of art according to the technical meaning. When performing this task it is our responsibility to expansively interpret the Act in order to achieve its purpose of remediation.”
California courts have repeatedly decided over the past two years that laws protecting the environment “are of great remedial and public importance” and “construed liberally,” which generally means greater protection of wildlife. In that light, the court held that the term “fish” is a “legal term of art that previously included a ‘terrestrial mollusk' under section 2607,” according to Law & Crime. “Accordingly, a terrestrial invertebrate, like each of the four bumblebee species, may be listed as an endangered or threatened species under the Act,” the decision read.