Vancouver Island beekeepers are calling on the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to do more to protect the health of honeybees.
Don Lambert of the Capital Region Beekeepers Association takes care of dozens of bee colonies, ensuring they have enough food to reproduce and survive each winter.
Over the last five years, the vice president says 100 per cent of his bees have survived winters. His secret is keeping them warm, dry and healthy, which he says is a challenge on the Island.
“That just takes time and practice, patience, and lots of humility,” said Lambert.
However, not all beekeepers have been able to share his success.
A total of 262 B.C. beekeepers were surveyed by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, which found 32.1 per cent of colonies died after the winter of 2022. It was the lowest loss percentage across Canada.
The biggest reason was due to ineffective Varroa mite control. Varroa is a parasitic mite that feeds on the human equivalent of the liver in bees — called the fat body. These mites can bring diseases and cause colonies to die.
“Just like mosquitoes do with humans, that mite injects all kinds of viruses and diseases and pathogens into the bees, and they then become sickly and don’t do well,” said Lambert.
Diseases and mites can show up after bees are imported — a common practice among some beekeepers.
In 1988, the B.C. Ministry implemented a quarantine on the Island to prevent infection from other bees across Canada. Only bees from foreign countries such as New Zealand and Chile were allowed since they had similar climates.
That importation ban was lifted in 2010, which was met with backlash from the CRBA.
Ahead of the release of an upcoming beekeeping survey from the province, Lambert is worried about a rising trend in mortality rates.
“We really don’t know what it is that we’re bringing in with those bees. Could they be bringing viruses that we don’t have here?” he said.
An outright quarantine is one solution, but ultimately isn’t the best way to protect bee health. The vice president says access to proper sterilization faculties would help beekeepers keep their colonies safe.
“We have an option of having our equipment sterilized to get rid of all those diseases and pathogens that are on the equipment and in the honeycombs…there’s only one facility, and that’s in Port Coquitlam,” said Lambert.
Access to that facility has been difficult due to rising costs and a change in ownership. Lambert says an American company has taken over, and what was only a half-a-day trip has begun to turn into a two-day trip, which is also raising costs.
He says the entire trip costs over $7,000, but he got a grant from the ministry of around $1,500.
“It looks like, at this point, it’s going to be very, very difficult for us to get access to that machine,” said Lambert.
In 2018, Bee BC received $100,000 in funding to support research on bee health, with a further $50,000 announced later that year.
“The B.C. government recognizes the critical and vital role bees play in our environment and to agriculture, not just in British Columbia but around the world. In May 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food announced a new BC Bee Tech Transfer Program. The program is delivered by the BC Honey Producers Association and supported by the ministry with $525,000 over three years (2021-2024),” said the ministry in an emailed statement to CHEK News.
Lambert wants the ministry to step in to protect small beekeeping operations and the larger ones.
“We need bees, we all want to keep the bees healthy,” said the vice president.
The beekeeping survey is expected to be released later this spring.