Appeals Court Classifies Bees as Fish Under Endangered Species Act

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Regulation

An appeals court recently reversed an earlier judgment preventing bumblebees from falling under the definition of “fish” in the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The California Third District Court of Appeal found that because the CESA definition of “fish” includes “invertebrate,” that bumblebees meet that criterion. The Crotch, Franklin, Suckley cuckoo and the Western bumble bee will now be protected under CESA. Ag groups such as the California Farm Bureau Federation and Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) have expressed concern for what this could mean moving forward.

Endangered Species

“The bottom line is that it’s now opened up the flood gates,” WAPA President and CEO Roger Isom noted. “The activists are already trying to list a butterfly species and you could start to see the door open up to every potential insect out there. Again, this movement to eliminate pesticide use in California is going to kick into high gear.”

The effort to add the four bumblebee species to CESA initially began back in 2018 with a petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety. The California Fish and Game Commission voted to designate the bumblebees as endangered species in 2019 with a coalition of ag groups opposing the move. A Sacramento County Superior Court judge agreed with the farm groups that applying the “fish” definition to insects was an overreach. California Attorney General Rob Bonta and several environmental groups appealed that decision, which has now been reversed, allowing bumblebees and other insects to be considered of “fish” under CESA parameters.

“The ag groups that are involved, we’re going to consider petitioning this to the Supreme Court. We feel like we’ve got a good case,” said Isom. “We’re going to see what we can do at the Supreme Court level and see if we can fight it. If not, I’d say get ready. They’re going to use this on every insect that they can, as again, another avenue to try and eliminate pesticide use in California.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West