California’s Third District Court of Appeal has ruled that bees are fish.
While this has been great news for comedians, it is unwelcome news in the state’s agriculture industry. The court’s ruling means four species of bumble bees may be listed as “endangered” and protected under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), which could affect farming.
CESA dates back to 1970 and enables anyone to petition the California Fish and Game Commission to designate a species as “endangered,” defined as “in serious danger of becoming extinct,” or “threatened,” meaning “likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future.” These designations are available for “native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant,” but not insects.
However, lawmakers defined “fish” to include mollusks, crustaceans and invertebrates. That would seem intended to apply to aquatic creatures, but the appeals court noted that the invertebrate Trinity bristle snail, which is a terrestrial, was found eligible for endangered status in 1980. If a snail could legally be a fish, the judges reasoned, then so could a bumble bee.
This case began in 2018, when the Portland, Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission. After various reviews, the commission agreed in 2019 to list as candidates for the “endangered” designation four species of bumble bees: the Western, the Franklin, the Suckley cuckoo and the Crotch.
More good news for comedians.
Agricultural trade associations led by the Almond Alliance of California found nothing funny about it and filed a lawsuit against the commission. A representative for citrus growers warned that adding the insects to the endangered species list set a troubling precedent and could disrupt farm practices such as the use of pesticides and herbicides, even affecting the location of honeybee hives for pollinating crops.
The agricultural groups won a victory in the Superior Court of Sacramento County, where Judge James P. Arguelles cited a 1998 published opinion by the attorney general explaining why the California Endangered Species Act did not apply to insects. The appellate court decided that was irrelevant, because bees meet the definition of fish.
There could be a silver lining for California growers. If endangered bees are fish, maybe they can finally get some water.