Jun 23, 2010

Honey producer, B.C. Ferries at odds over bee transport


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.”


Why is the quarantine important?

1. There are diseases and pests on the Mainland that don’t exist here yet.

2. The quarantine has slowed the spread of diseases. Varroa arrived here years after it decimated the Mainland. And then only because someone knowingly brought bees in illegally.

3. We’ve just come through the worst winter of losses that the lower Island has seen — do we really need an influx of new problems just now?

4. The losses were up to 90% — what if we have something new on the island that we are about to export now?

5. Local stock is adapted to local conditions. Outside bees aren’t.

6. Surely there was plenty of time for consultations… but were you involved? No? Me neither. Neither were the Island clubs. Neither was the BCHPA.

We can overturn this decision. We need to.

A message from the Capital Region Beekeepers Association

Report from Island Bee-Keeping Community

By Brian Scullion, South Vancouver Island. Aug, 2010

Hello beekeepers and friends. The past six months have been a real challenge for many Island beekeepers. With the severe losses this past winter and the change in the policy on Movement of Bees legislation, we struggle to find any logic to support the policy change to allow bees on comb onto the Islands. We were promised consultations prior to any change in policy, but there was zero communication with Island beekeepers. We were informed via phone conference on April 22 that the policy change would take effect on May 1, 2010, and that the condition to move bees to the Islands would have the same protocols as Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has for overseas imports. Fine, we said, CFIA says no bees on comb. Next thing you know, on May 10 the policy changes again and there’s no mention of the CFIA import conditions. A coalition of Island beekeepers met with the Ministry so we could put our concerns on the table. We reiterated the facts concerning our losses on the Islands this past winter, but the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (BCMAL) did not seem concerned about the contributing causes.

At this meeting we brought examples and demonstrated the most common ways to move honeybees: on comb and in a package. Minister Thompson and Deputy Minister Kislock’s lack of understanding of how bees are moved, or, for that matter, of the beekeeping industry, dismayed us. We explained to the Minister that, in this day of risk and hazard assessments, the movement of bees on comb to the Islands far outweighs any economic benefit. We explained that there is a greater risk of pests, pathogens and disease on comb than in a package of bees. We were amazed when the Minister said we were wrong, there were no greater risk, and the head Apiculturist at the meeting agreed with the Minister. It took a pointed letter from a Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturalists (CAPA) member to have the Ministry understand this fact: Bees on comb poses a greater risk. Period.

We were also told that disease profiles are the same province- wide. What is wrong with that picture? Disease profiles differ greatly! Look at how information is gathered to build a disease profile: If I call for an inspection because I suspect a problem, the inspector will document what was found. But that alone doesn’t create a profile, does it? What about the beekeeper that did not require an inspection, or call for one: is he excluded from the profile? I would say so. Correct me if I am wrong, but a profile should involve an inspector calling me for a sample saying, “We require a sample of your bees as we are conducting assays and a variety of tests province-wide to give a real profile of bee health in British Columbia.” That’s a no-brainer.

As most of you must have read in the newspapers, the first move of bees on comb to the island was a sorry disaster, as the entrances to the colonies were left open allowing the bees to free fly. When the truck came to a stop on the deck of the boat, thousands of bees took flight, and It was not until the ferry made it to active pass before the deck lights were turned down and the doors opened to allow cool air to rush in. The bee carpeted car deck was closed to the public for about a half an hour, and in that time honey bees were washed into the ocean with fire hoses. We are very sad for this mismanaged move and for the unnecessary loss of thousands of honeybees.

I urge all beekeepers, the executive of the BCHPA, CAPA, Canadian Honey Council (CHC) and all bee inspectors Canada-wide to speak out on this policy change. Maybe we have it all wrong! If there are people in favour of this change in policy: Educate me; tell me we have it wrong and why. Tell me how this policy change will be beneficial to all beekeepers. I know of only one individual on the Island in favour of this change. Other than that — silence!

What we have heard, loud and clear, from Island beekeepers and Island BCHPA members, is support for the Coalition to continue pressure on the BCMAL to reverse this policy change and to preserve the health of the Vancouver Island bee district.