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California Endangered Species Act Expanded to Include All Invertebrates

The sun beautifully illuminating the green treetops of tall beech trees in a forest clearing, panorama shot

On Tuesday, Judges Robie, Hoch and Blease of the Third District of California’s Appellate Court reversed the decision of the Sacramento County Supreme Court in Almond Alliance of California et al. v. Fish and Game Commission et al. This ruling classifies all invertebrates as “fish” under the California Endangered Species Act, granting the creatures strong legal protections moving forward.

The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) directs the Fish and Game Commission to create a list of endangered species that would then receive legal protections. The intervenors, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Defenders of Wildlife, have argued that certain bumble bee species fall under the definition of a “fish” and thus deserve protection. In October 2018, several conservation groups petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to add several varieties of bumble bee to the list of endangered species under California law. In June 2019, the California Department for Fish and Wildlife started to consider these bumble bee species for protections under the California Endangered Species Act.

The court noted that Section 45 of the Act, added in 2015, specifies “a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant” which “expressley” includes invertebrates. Furthermore, the court said that the definition of “fish” is not practical in the sense that it refers to a variety of aquatic creatures, but is generalized in the sense that it mentions “mollusks, invertebrates, amphibians, and crustaceans,” some of which are terrestrial. This ruling is further supported by the inclusion of the Trinity bristle snail into CESA several years ago, which is a terrestrial mollusk. This empowered the court to further expand the reach of the law. The court concluded that the Fish and Game Commission “may list any invertebrate as an endangered or threatened species.” 

Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director at Center for Food Safety commented on the ruling saying “With one out of every three bites of food we eat coming from a crop pollinated by bees, this court decision is critical to protecting our food supply.” 

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