Beekeepers seek to continue quarantine on Vancouver Island

Posted: Monday, May 08, 2000

VICTORIA, British Columbia (AP) -- Vancouver Island honey bees apparently have won a reprieve from a parasite that could have wiped out colonies and wreaked havoc on crops.

Now some beekeepers fear a change in provincial laws that would suspend a quarantine could open their hives to renewed hazards.

They say it has taken vigilant testing and treatment of colonies to avoid major losses from Varroa jacobsconi mites, blood-sucking, pinhead-sized parasites that attack bee larvae, deforming them and shortening the bees' lives.

In 1997, the mites were found in about 1,000 area bee colonies. Some feared the entire island would be infected with the mites in three to five years.

Vic Macdonald, president of the Capital Regional Beekeepers' Association, said the provincialgovernment would be letting beekeepers down by lifting a quarantine that gave local bees protection from outside dangers such as Africanized bees and hive beetles.

Since bees can fly no more than a mile or two at a stretch, the only way they can get to the island is by boat or aircraft.

''We're trying to push for maintaining the quality and status of bees on the island, and the federal and provincial agriculture departments are hell bent on taking it away,'' Macdonald said.

Barb Wright, a spokeswoman for the provincial Agriculture Ministry, said most island beekeepers and the British Columbia Honey Producers' Association support the proposed changes to the Bee Act.

''There has been a lot of consultation in order to make the changes,'' Wright said. ''Most of the commercial beekeepers support the change because it means they can move their hives to the Lower Mainland and back.''

If the mites or some other major threat emerges, restrictions on the movement of hives can be quickly reinstated, she said, ''but if there's no immediate threat that requires us to restrict bee movement, we end up facing some trade restrictions that do not benefit anybody.''

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