BY SANDRA MCCULLOCH, TIMES COLONIST JUNE 22, 2010
B.C. Ferries and an Island commercial honey producer are blaming each other for the escape of honey bees from a transport truck that was travelling on the Spirit of British Columbia earlier this month.
Hundreds to thousands of bees flew out of net-covered hives, some carpeting the car deck while others buzzed through the air.
No one was stung or injured, but the June 1 incident raises concerns for the safety of crew or passengers who have life-threatening allergies to bee stings.
Mark Pitcher, owner of Babe’s Honey, said yesterday he’s not impressed with how B.C. Ferries handled the situation. So on Sunday, Pitcher brought a second trailer-load of bees to the Island, 400 hives containing 3.5 billion honeybees, this time on a Seaspan barge.
Pitcher said he met with B.C. Ferries staff prior to the voyage to ensure that the bees, the ferry passengers and crew would be safe. He wanted the truck loaded first and put up front, the ferry’s rear doors opened to allow air flow and the lights on the main car deck shut off, leaving only emergency lighting on.
“We’d written all the protocols. We’d talked to everybody all the way up to it and they didn’t do a single thing they were supposed to do, including all the directions of the provincial apiarist for the province of B.C.,” Pitcher said yesterday.
The ferry was at Active Pass before the beekeepers could find someone on the ferry to open the doors and dim the lights, said Pitcher. By this time, the warmth and bright lights of the car deck had woken the bees.
But the onus for securing the bees being transported in their hives falls on the owner of the hives, said Deborah Marshall, spokeswoman for B.C. Ferries.
“I don’t see how the heck this is supposed to be our fault — his bees are supposed to be contained,” said Marshall yesterday.
Bees can be contained in hives by blocking the holes through which they exit, but this was not done.
A 22-year moratorium that banned the importing of bees onto the Island was recently lifted and this was the first large shipment to leave Tsawwassen. While the importing of bees to the Island has been restricted, B.C. Ferries has had plenty of experience taking them off the Island, Marshall said.
“I don’t recall ever hearing a problem like this,” she said.
“We want to support the industry on Vancouver Island. We don’t want to cause them any hardship, but if it’s putting passengers and crew in a potentially dangerous situation we’re going to have to look at whether we continue to transport them or not.”
Pitcher estimates only 600 bees escaped the shipment and none, he said, posed a risk to crew or passengers.
“Nobody got stung and you wouldn’t get stung,” said Pitcher. “The only time you wear protective gear is when you’re collecting honey and riling up the hives.”
Island farmers need honey bees to pollinate their crops, said Pitcher.
“There aren’t enough bees for the farmers right now. We’ve got to get bees into the crops to get them pollinated.”
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist