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Nova Scotia beekeepers concerned about hive importation from pest-infected province

The honeybee industry contributes to the Nova Scotia agricultural economy through the production of honey, related products and pollination.
The honeybee industry contributes to the Nova Scotia agricultural economy through the production of honey, related products and pollination.

NOVA SCOTIA - Members of the Nova Scotia Beekeepers’ Association say their industry is under threat if honeybee colonies from Ontario are imported to pollinate blueberries.

President Lauren Park says the decision by the Department of Agriculture to issue an import permit has the potential to ruin honey crops and compromise honeybee colonies.

“Ontario is the only province in Canada to have small hive beetles (SHB), a new pest,” she said in a letter to the Vanguard.

Because the price for blueberries has dropped to an all-time low (as well as the demand), there are already enough beehives in the province to pollinate fields, she added.

Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell says it’s not accurate to say Ontario is the only province with SHB.

“They have it in Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and in the United States,” he said.

When asked why hives wouldn’t be imported from a province that doesn’t have the pest, he replied that it is not up to the department to decide.

“It’s up to the individuals who will be doing the importation.”

Import for close to 400 hives has been requested and Colwell says the biggest beekeeper in the province is requesting the import permit.

There are at least 225 beekeepers operating in Nova Scotia.

“They would be at the most risk of importing something that would cause problems,” he said.

Colwell says the department has the toughest protocols in the country and that a study completed by a leading authority on SHB, outlining the risks to Nova Scotia about two years ago, showed very minimal risk.

Last year, 2,500 to 2,600 hives were imported, including from Tasmania.  

“All those hives were inspected 100 per cent by a combination of people: the blueberry association representative, the beekeepers’ association and our bee professional we have on staff,” said Colwell.

“This year we’ve tightened up the protocol.”

He adds that although the bee industry claims 28,000 hives exist in the province, the department has not verified that.

Colwell also made reference to funding that has been supplied to beekeepers in the past.

The number of hives in Nova Scotia has grown by about 7,800 since 2012 — about a 44 per cent increase.

An initial investment of $125,000 was doubled to allow smaller beekeeper operations to expand.

“Now they’re telling us we have enough hives in the province. We can’t justify investing in more beehives if that’s the case,” he said.

The department is working with the industry to develop a plan to market the product more, he says.

“We’re pretty excited about that.”

Yarmouth beekeeper John Hood has 10 hives. He thinks cheaper cost could be the reason behind the importer’s quest to import bees from Ontario.

The danger of SHB concerns him.

“We already had one pest imported about 10 years ago when varroa mite entered Nova Scotia,” he said.

“We had no varroa mite here and we had the same kind of restrictions to hold that back.”

Hood says that for people who raise bees for honey, not pollination purposes, the small hive beetle will strike the death knell for beekeepers.

“Especially small ones like me. You can’t treat for it. The solution is to burn your hives. The small hive beetle burrows through all of the wax foundation and all the honey and literally destroys it.”

Anyone who wants to import honeybees (bee queens, genetic material or packages) and/or used beekeeping equipment into Nova Scotia from another province or country requires a honeybees import permit.

Photos courtesy Adam Graham Photography

More about bee safety

Nova Scotia Beekeepers' Association

Risk assessment report on the movement of honey bee colonies into Nova Scotia and introduction and establishment of small hive beetle, prepared by the NS Dept. of Agriculture:

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