Nova Scotia beekeepers group alarmed over proposal to import bees from Ontario

Want to keep N.L. bees healthy? Stop imports, says beekeepers group

An application to ship bees from Ontario — a province known to have a widespread infection of small hive beetles — has been submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. 

The Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association says that if the import permit is approved, about 500 rented hives could cross Nova Scotia's border in May and leave at the end of the summer.

The association says the bees would be headed for wild blueberry fields in Nova Scotia to aid pollination of those crops.

Difficult to remove beetles

The group is concerned that the shipment could infect Nova Scotian hives with small hive beetles. Small hive beetles don't hurt the bees themselves, but rather ferment and ruin the honey with their excrement.

"The risk is, the beetle lives in the cluster and even through an inspection process it's very difficult to ensure that we can find all of these beetles," said association president and beekeeper Lauren Park.

"If they were to become established in Nova Scotia there's a chance we would never be able to get rid of them."

Province: inspection is robust

"We have a very robust, rigid protocol around inspection of hives before they come in to Nova Scotia," said Frank Dunn, deputy minister for the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture.

Dunn said the province will send a bee specialist to Ontario to ensure that the hives are safe and beetle-free before they come to Nova Scotia.

Park said the beekeepers association has been lobbying the province for more than six months to not allow this importation.

Last year, the agriculture department said the only hives that could be imported must be beetle-free for two years and would not be stored with uninspected hives before heading east to pollinate blueberry fields in Cumberland County.

Dunn wouldn't say which individual or company filed the import application with his department.

Needed to pollinate blueberry fields

​The beekeeping association said about 24,000 Nova Scotian hives were rented for use on blueberry fields last year and projects this year that number will significantly lower.

Park thinks the number of imported hives will be insignificant to growers while creating unnecessary risk to local beekeepers.

"This importation is completely unnecessary and would put the entire beekeeping sector at risk of small hive beetle infestation," the beekeeping association said in a news release. 

Hive shortages 

The beekeepers association admits there has been a shortage in the numbers of hives in Nova Scotia in the past.

"As beekeepers we understand the blueberry growers need to pollinate those fields," said Park.

Park said the drop in the price of blueberries means the industry could scale back, meaning local beekeepers could potentially meet growers demand without having to import bees.

"With that dropped demand, without question, we do have enough bees in Nova Scotia to pollinate the blueberry fields," Park said.

Increasing N.S. hives

The beekeeping association said there has been significant investment in upping the numbers of Nova Scotian hives with the hopes of making up for last year's shortfall.

Park said the government-initiated pollination expansion program invested $900,000 over the last five years, with the goal of increasing the number of Nova Scotia bee hives.

Contradictory rules?

​Park said there is a different set of rules for beekeepers when it comes to importing bees or products from Ontario. 

"If I wanted to purchase any hive equipment, even without any bees whatsoever, that is not allowed because of the risk of beetles, but it's somehow still allowed for blueberry growers to import these hives for pollination season," said Park

"It seems a little bit contradictory."