Nfld. & Labrador

Beekeeper wants N.L. to ban honeybee importation to protect disease-free population

The provincial government on Tuesday introduced legislation requiring registration of all hives in Newfoundland and Labrador but Paul Dinn says it doesn't go far enough to protect the province's bee population.

Industry association and agriculture minister say controlled importation may be necessary

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the few places left on earth where beehives haven't been infected with varroa mites. (Submitted by Steve McBride)

The provincial government on Tuesday introduced legislation requiring registration of all hives in Newfoundland and Labrador but Paul Dinn says it doesn't go far enough to protect the province's bee population.

Legislation requiring mandatory registration of all hives in N.L. was introduced Tuesday but at least one outspoken beekeeper say it doesn't go far enough to protect the province's disease-free honey bees.

Paul Dinn of Adelaide's Newfoundland Honey says Newfoundland and Labrador should ban the importation of honey bees.

"Our Newfoundland honeybees and native pollinators are at great risk as long the law allows for the importation of honey bees and is supported by the beekeeping association. Change the law," he tweeted Wednesday morning.

The risk is disease. Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the few places left on earth were beehives haven't been infected with varroa mites, a pest that can destroy a hive. Once they are present in a population, beekeepers may have to medicate hives with pharmaceuticals to control them.

Paul Dinn keeps bees in the Goulds area of St. John's. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Dinn says the No. 1 source of that risk is importation of hives, and beekeepers in the province can apply for a permit to import honeybees to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Byrne says importation hasn't been done since 2017 and is strictly controlled to prevent a diseased hive from entering this province.

"There will never, ever, ever be a permit ever issued lightly," he said Wednesday.

"There will never be a permit issued to import a bee from anywhere other than a certified disease-free stock from one of those areas that are certified as disease free."

Newfoundland and Labrador Agriculture Minister Gerry Byrne introduced legislation making it mandatory for all beekeepers in the province to register their hives. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Importation an option

But he argues importation should remain an option.

"Our current beekeeping industry and our capacity was largely aided and supported by the fact that there was an importation of guaranteed disease-free bees, which allowed us to get a critical mass to enjoy the industry that we have today," he said.

Byrne said that may be necessary again in the future.

"The truth is is that sometimes beehives face collapse. What we may find is that a bad winter in this province may result in a collapse of our own domestic production. If we have an absolute ban on importation we are limiting our options to rebuild our population," he said

Provincial beekeepers association agrees 

Rodney Reid, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association and a farmer near Bishop Falls who keeps 40 hives of his own, agrees with Byrne. Reid produces honey and provides pollination services to others, like cranberry farmers.

"Bringing in live bees in is not on the radar of the province or anyone else at this point but if we did have a major catastrophe here on the island for the bee population, how would we restock? I hope we never have to import but if we ban it we may have a problem in the future if we do need to import," he said.

Beekeepers provide pollination services to cranberry farmers in Newfoundland. (Submitted by Margaret Hynes)

Dinn doesn't buy that argument.

"It will never be necessary to import. You can not preach protection of honeybees and plan for importation at the same time. It's nonsense. Either we protect our bees or we don't," he tweeted.

As for the legislative change recently introduced at the House of Assembly, Dinn says mandatory registration of hives won't do a lot to protect bees from disease.

"I want people to say I have a bee hive and I'd like to register it," Dinn told CBC News.

"It's a good idea if something happens but I think the reason something is going to happen is because someone's going to import bees. The varroa mite is not going to randomly appear. It's going to be from someone bringing them into the province."

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About the Author

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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