A beetle whose larvae can destroy beehives has been discovered in northeastern New Brunswick, where it arrived with Ontario bees imported to pollinate blueberry crops.

The New Brunswick government says it has quarantined some honey bee colonies after the discovery of a small hive beetle infestation on the Acadian peninsula.

Kevin McCully, the provincial director of agriculture, said officials are unsure how the beetle got past what he called a rigorous inspection process for imported bees.

Beekeepers "have to send us their forms showing their inspection results, and they were all reported to not have any presence of small hive beetles in them," he said.

"So we were very surprised when we did some spot checks and found them."

Found in other provinces

The small hive beetle has been a problem in southern Ontario, but has also been found in Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec.

Last year, New Brunswick increased the minimum rate of inspections of apiaries coming from Ontario to 50 per cent of colonies, and required inspections within 30 days, rather than six months, of the importation date. 

Urban Bee Keeping 20160425

The government of New Brunswick is spending $100,000 a year to help the honey bee population grow. (The Canadian Press)

The beetles are mostly a threat to the bees' homes. Adult small hive beetles find places within honey bee colonies to lay eggs, typically eight. The larvae defecate on the honeycomb, causing the honey to ferment and spoil.  

There is now a no-movement quarantine on the bees that arrived from the beekeeper in Ontario. That means the bees are not allowed to be taken to any other part of New Brunswick and must be sent back to Ontario by June 22.

Would prefer not to import

In recent years, New Brunswick has put $100,000 a year into a honey bee expansion program to help increase the honey bee population native to New Brunswick. 

Meanwhile, New Brunswick has allowed 25,000 hives to be brought in from Ontario because they're needed for pollination.

"We'd rather not do that," McCully said. "We would rather have our own beekeeping to be able to provide that pollination."

Government arrived at the large import number to get the maximum economic benefit, he said.

The Agriculture Department said New Brunswick and Ontario will work together to see what went wrong this time.

A call for stronger regulations

But for some in the industry, checking to see what went wrong isn't enough.

Calvin Hicks, president of the New Brunswick Beekeepers Association, said provincial regulations are not tough enough, and it's only a matter of time before the small hive beetle arrives.

"Right now, as far as we know, there hopefully aren't any small hive beetles affecting New Brunswick-owned hives," Hicks said in an interview Monday before news of the infestation on the Acadian peninsula.

Nova Scotia has moved to ban importing bees from other provinces, but Hicks said that's not possible with the low population honey bee population in New Brunswick. 

"Those requirements have been a bit too lax," he said.