Small Hive Beetle, a nasty little pest that B.C. has already had a small taste of, has raised its ugly head in Alberta.
And, as seems to be the case so often these days, it is as a result of hitching a ride with an unsuspecting beekeeper. The situation in this case is much more grave because the beekeeper, a knowledgeable large Alberta-based migratory operator who pollinates in Ontario and Alberta and winters in B.C., did not have a permit from Alberta to bring the bees back from Ontario.
Last week the Alberta Apiculture Division found two adult beetles in a load of his hives. It follows on an earlier discovery this summer of small hive beetle in New Brunswick, also brought in by a commercial beekeeper moving hives from Ontario, which has an established infestation on the Niagara Peninsula. Small hive beetle, Aethina tumida Murray, is an Asiatic invader that can seriously wreck the beekeeping economy.
This is not an inconsequential find. Medhat Nasr, the Alberta provincial apiculturist – and a no-nonsense guy when it comes to preventing the spread of diseases and pests – immediately instituted a quarantine zone of about 850 square kilometres around the infected hives an area north-east of Edmonton. The zone captured 15 large operators who control 15,000 hives, all within a 15-kilometre flying radius of the suspect operation. Under the order, they can’t move for at least 45 days. The quarantine could be lifted if the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry ministry doesn’t find beetles in two consecutive inspections. Here’s a portion of his statement. You can download the entire press release here.
This find has also caused the province to clamp down hard on beekeepers who fail to get the proper import permits.
Under provincial laws similar to those in B.C., beekeepers cannot transport hives or bees across boundaries without inspection certificates. Offenders can be forced to return the hives to their place of origin.
On Tuesday Medhat told me that he’s concerned that beekeepers coming from B.C. and provinces east of Alberta are flaunting the rules and aren’t having their colonies properly inspected for three reportable pests or diseases: small hive beetle, American Foul Brood and varroa mites.
Canada already has a rule, known as the CFIA-Hawaii Protocol, which requires the inspection of bees for AFB, varroa and small hive beetle for queens being imported into Canada.
That protocol requires beekeepers in Hawaii, California, Chile and other queen-exporting nations, to have their entire operations inspected by local authorities. Operations found with more than one per cent infestation of varroa aren’t allowed to ship queens into Canada. (Canada does not allow whole hives or bees on comb to be imported into the country.)
Now Medhat is about to tighten the screws. He’s asked the Alberta Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General to support a plan to require beekeepers crossing into Alberta to stop at border weigh scales and inspection stations. If they do not carry inspection certificates for AFB, small hive beetle and varroa, and don’t have import permits issued by his department, they will be refused entry and turned back.
That’s mighty serious consequences, given that bees don’t do well cooped up under transport nets and transport costs can be high.
That also has an effect on B.C. beekeepers for a number of reasons. British Columbia is used as a wintering location for many Western Canadian beekeepers. More than 40,000 hives from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba winter here, in the much balmier-Lower Mainland and Central Okanagan. But B.C. has a relatively lightweight inspection program; although the province’s apiculture division has seven part-time regional inspectors, to my mind they’re grossly over-taxed and under-funded. By mid-summer most have used up their allotted inspection hours or they have to juggle them carefully so as not to go over budget.
Under B.C.’s Bee Act, beekeepers wanting to sell hives and equipment must have them inspected for AFB, varroa levels, small hive beetle and additionally, for European Foul Brood. They also have to have colonies inspected if they move them across any of the province’s 13 regional bee district borders. You can download the rules here.
But you can often find people selling hives or nucleus colonies or queens without permits; it is often just too difficult to get a timely inspection from someone who lives miles away from where the transaction is taking place.
So Medhat’s plan to raise the drawbridge in Alberta will have consequences for B.C. It is not something that this province can ignore. We depends upon overwintering Alberta beekeepers to support the under-serviced Fraser Valley blueberry pollination business, and the apple and cherry orchards in the Okanagan.
In 2015, we had a taste of what can happen when a rash of small hive beetle finds in the Fraser Valley forced B.C. to institute an expansive quarantine zone.
It also caused Medhat to put in a two-zone inspection system in Alberta for returning beekeepers who wanted to take hives from B.C. into the lucrative hybrid canola pollination areas around Calgary.
And yet we don’t seem to be any further ahead in dealing with what will likely be a regular problem.
It may be something that Lana Popham, the new B.C. Minister of Agriculture, is going to have to look at.