Nfld. & Labrador

Q&A: Why one N.L. beekeeper is giving the OK to importing bees

After careful research, a beekeeper on the Avalon Peninsula is convinced Western Australia bees will be fine on the island.

Aubrey Goulding first imported bees to the province 30 years ago

The province allowed the importation of bees from Western Australia to meet growing demand in the province. (CBC)

Importing honeybees to Newfoundland and Labrador has been a controversial topic since news broke in late May that the provincial government gave the OK for bees to be brought in from Western Australia.

Both Newfoundland and that portion of Australia are rare havens for honeybees: two of the few places in the world where bee populations are free of the diseases and parasites that have ravaged most other populations.

One beekeeper in the province has experience importing bees from Australia in the past. Aubrey Goulding of Paradise farms spoke with CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show host Bernice Hillier with his take on the subject.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Tell me how you came to import bees.

I actually started in '84 importing bees. My first bees came from New Zealand, and for the first five years or so, I was getting my packaged bees from New Zealand. As time went down, I heard about Australia and the bees they had, so I started importing queens from Australia, and I done that for a number of years. 15 years ago my bee yards were pretty much 100 per cent New Zealand/Australia honeybees.

So you were able then to maintain the population?

Once I caught on to it, I managed to maintain my stock without having to bring any new packages in.

Was that the main reason why you stopped bringing in bees from Australia?

No. I read an article about how Australia, and New Zealand as well, had the mite. And I didn't want anything to do with that mite, so I stopped bringing in bees from that whole area — not realizing of course there was still a clean area in Western Australia.

What did you think when you heard about this latest importation of honeybees, from Western Australia?

Just a wave of emotions: fear, panic for sure. Within 10 minutes I called [The deptartment of] Agriculture to see if this was actually happening, and they confirmed yes, there were a number of orders placed or being placed with Western Australia.

Then, I got a hold of our president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping association, just to see what they thought of it and what their involvement was — and they didn't know anything about it, so that raised even more alarms with me. 

I ended up doing my own research. I called up the importer here in Canada, and I got online, dug out as many scientific papers as I possibly could, and Agriculture sent a representative and met with me in my house for about an hour or so to go through all the inspection levels.

By the time I got through that four or five days of research and talking to people I felt quite comfortable that this could very well be a mite-free place.

You're OK with it now?

With the information I have, yes. The Australian bee is a very gentle bee. It's a really hygienic bee, and it's a really good honey producer. And if this works out, and from what I understand now and from what I read, and who I've been talking to, this should be good for the island.

With files from The Corner Brook Morning Show