Nfld. & Labrador

Ban the bees: Local beekeeper says imports too risky

Holyrood beekeeper Brendan Quinlan opposes the provincial government's decision to allow the import of honeybees from Western Australia.
The Canadian Honey Council has estimated that the bee population across the country has dropped by about 35 per cent in the past three years. (Ben Margot/The Associated Press)

A beekeeper in Holyrood says importing bees from Western Australia to supply a growing demand in this province puts the thriving local bee population at risk.

"We got a clean colony," said Brendan Quinlan in an interview with On The Go. "So why take a chance, why even think about doing it?"

This province and Western Australia share the distinction of having honeybees that are free of common disease and parasites which have infested and destroyed colonies around the world. 

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is allowing the import of disease-free bees from Western Australia because it says the local supply isn't large enough to satisfy the growing popularity of beekeeping.

It says local bees are protected because several layers of rigorous testing ensure the imported bees are not contaminated before being shipped to the island.

Bee parasites, such as Varroa destructor or Nosema ceranae, that have plagued honeybees globally have never been found in Newfoundland. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Quinlan admits he's new to the industry, but he feels that if local beekeepers were motivated to breed them, there would be enough bees to go around without outside help.

"Why not just have a policy that the beekeepers that are already here ... sell so many [colonies] before they can sell their honey?"  said Quinlan.

"These beekeepers that got 50, 100 hives, they can make an awful lot of [colonies] very quickly if they forgot about the greed, and helped the people here."

'Consider the big picture'

The pollinating activities of honey bees are vital to world's agricultural food supply.

'We got the cleanest bees and we're going to take a chance at ruining that?       - Brendan Quinlan, beekeeper

A United Nations report released earlier this year says pollinator species like honeybees and butterflies are at risk of extinction because of environmental pressures such as pesticide use, disease, and a decrease in wildflowers. It also says 75 per cent of the world's food crops rely on pollination.

Quinlan said government should consider the big picture. 

"People all over the world are looking at Newfoundland because we got the cleanest bees and we're going to take a chance at ruining that? What kind of a quack would even think of doing something like that?"

Newfoundland's distance from infected mainland bees means mites would most likely only be introduced if imported. (CBC)

He said disease-free bees are a rare commodity, and the province should look at growing the industry from within, and exporting local bees globally.

"That's what the rest of the world is waiting for," said Quinlan. "That's the reason the rest of the world is looking at Newfoundland, and possibly depending on Newfoundland ... That is a major industry that could developed here."

Quinlan also feels more stringent measures should be taken at the ports where transport trucks land with cargo that may contain stray mainland bees carrying parasites. He says government should be taking more precautions to avoid contamination of domestic bee populations.

With files from On The Go