As a commercial beekeeper, there are numerous challenges that we must over come each year in order to ensure our bees are healthy and our businesses are successful. Some of these challenges are out of our control (weather, crop rotations by growers, urban sprawl, etc.). But many of the challenges we face are manageable by industry itself, and there are times where the best interests of the industry as a whole come before the self serving interests of the few. That is why the current situation in Ontario with the continued and uncontrolled spread of Small Hive Beetle (SHB) is extremely frustrating.
By definition, Canada is free of SHB. It was found in both Alberta (2006) and Manitoba (2002 and 2006), and it failed to establish itself in those provinces. The actions taken to prevent SHB in both of these provinces is still debated to this day, but because the number of beetles found were in the single digits, the odds of it establishing a resident population was low. It was then found in Quebec in 2009, and a buffer zone was created in the southern part of that province. The hives that were found to have the beetle were destroyed and the beekeepers were compensated for those colonies. I do not know if this is still the action being taken there, but I assume it is. And earlier this week there was an adult beetle found in the lower mainland of British Columbia.
The University of Florida has a great page on their website with information about the beetle, but we have no idea as to what the full impact of the beetle will be in Canada. Some feel that the beetle will not thrive in Canada due to our geography and climate, but this is an educated guess at best. This video is a good visual of what SHB can do to honeybee colonies, and this video shows what the beetle can do during honey production. With the information available to us about the beetle, and the uncertainty of what the effect of it will be in Canada, there should be no debate as to why we want to prevent the spread of it.
That brings us to Ontario. It was initially found in Ontario in September of 2010, and quarantine zones in Essex County and part of Chatham-Kent were established to prevent any further spread of the beetle. At the time, no one knew what would happen with the beetle being in a region that presented conditions the beetle could thrive in. The current president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA), Tibor Szabo, had these comments in “Better Farming” on March 8th, 2011:
Tibor Szabo, vice president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, says the province’s measures may not be enough to prevent the beetle’s spread because the beetle can fly up to 14 kilometers, it can infiltrate bumble bee colonies and wild bumble bee nests and it can be transported on rotting fruit, especially melons, where it reproduces.
Fast forward to 2015. The quarantine zones imposed by OMAFRA in 2010 seemed to be containing the beetle to the both Essex County and Chatham-Kent. That all ended when the beetle was found in the Niagara region, in both hobby and commercial operations. To date, 9 locations in the Niagara region have tested positive for the beetle, with 5 of these detections being in large operations that pollinate blueberries in the Maritimes each year. These operations were inspected this spring and no beetles were found, but their provincial apiculturist admits that it is impossible to know when the infestation took place. It is quite possible it happened prior to colonies moving from Ontario to the Maritimes.
Clearly the quarantine failed and rather than expand the quarantine to include the Niagara region, both OMAFRA and the OBA have taken no action to prevent any further spread in Ontario. To make matters worse, the OBA sent a long winded letter to OMAFRA on August 18th requesting them to allow industry to try and contain the beetle with no government intervention. There are many problems with this approach, but two in particular stand out. One is that the OBA is not in charge of regulatory affairs in the province of Ontario, so why isn’t OMAFRA doing its job and expanding the quarantine zone. The second issue is that the OBA has demonstrated its continual incompetence over the past 3 years with the neonic debacle, so who in their right mind would trust them to handle an issue as serious as this? They publicly stated in 2011 that they doubted the beetle could be contained in the regions of initial infestation, and over the past 5 years they have done absolutely nothing about it. And when you take into account how many hobby beekeepers are in these regions and the fact they are likely to not know how to detect the beetle, it makes it even more difficult to control the spread.
In the letter sent to OMAFRA on August 18th, the OBA states that it is putting together a “comprehensive plan” to prevent the beetle from spreading any further. One of their speaking points revolves around biosecurity, which is embarrassing in that they apparently have no clue as to what that term means. A proper biosecurity program would have immediately quarantined the Niagara region, yet they are begging OMAFRA to take no such action. You can be guaranteed that if the beetle were to establish itself in Alberta as it has in Ontario, the OBA would be looking for a total quarantine of Alberta. But due to the incompetence of the current leadership regime within the OBA and the inability of Ontario’s provincial apiculturist to stand up to the OBA and do what is needed, they feel it is acceptable to risk the livelihood of beekeepers across Canada.
There are many ramifications if SHB spreads. Tens of thousands of hives travel from Ontario to the Maritimes each spring for pollination purposes, and the Maritimes do not have the beetle. We even had a beekeeper from Alberta move hives to the Maritimes this spring, and those hives had to go through Ontario to get there. There are 30,000 hives from northern Alberta that depend on being able to move their bees to the lower mainland of BC in the winter, and that is at risk if the beetle establishes itself in either of those regions. When you start putting this all together it is clear that without immediate action by OMAFRA or CFIA, the beetle is in a great position to spread across the country.
To make matters worse, we have an extremely small group of beekeepers outside of Ontario that want CFIA to declare the beetle endemic in Canada. The reason for this is that they feel it will assist in opening up the USA border to package bees and potentially bees on comb. The most recent risk assessment conducted by CFIA in 2013 determined that the SHB could be a serious problem for the Canadian bee industry, and was one of the reasons why CFIA ruled against opening up the border to the USA. Yet this small group of beekeepers continue to insist that SHB will not pose a threat in Canada (which is comical considering none of them have experience with it), and are willing to risk the establishment of a highly destructive pest on our industry just to satisfy their own short-sightedness. Honey contaminated by the beetle is deemed unfit for human consumption, and colonies that become infested are unusable after and must be destroyed. It truly is sad that these people work so hard to find ways to screw the system in order to save a dollar, yet it always costs far more than that for the rest of us in the end. Ignorance at its finest.
We will have SHB across Canada one day, there is no doubt of that. Our climate may retard it, but it’ll still be a problem nonetheless. Talk to any beekeeper that has the beetle, and they quickly admit that it creates drastic changes to management practices. The longer we can delay that from occurring the better, and it all starts with the supposed “leadership” in Ontario and other parts of Canada to look past their own nose.
Maybe I’m just an idealist and should accept that these people will never step back and think intelligently……..