Canadian and U. S. officials scheduled a conference call this week to try to restore queen bee imports from Hawaii, Canada’s largest market for queens, despite the presence of varroa mites.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the U. S. Department of Agriculture were expected to discuss ways to revise an import protocol to allow for the varroa, previously unknown in Hawaii.
Canada stopped issuing import permits for Hawaiian queens last October after the varroa, a virulent bee parasite, was detected on the main island.
Time to reach a new protocol is getting short because honey producers usually begin importing queens in April. Canadian queens are not available until June or later.
Negotiations appear to be going slowly. Both sides have already had one conference call and may require another, said Heather Clay, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council.
“We’re quite surprised because we thought it was an easy fix,” said Clay from her office in Calgary.
The holdup is that USDA has not yet agreed to provide the necessary inspections for varroa levels by Hawaiian suppliers, she said.
CFIA protocols require that honeybees imported from a region with varroa mites must have a health permit certifying that the supplying apiaries have been inspected and varroa levels are less than one per cent.
Hawaii supplies roughly 40 per cent of the queen bees imported into Western Canada. Importing queens with fresh genetics is vital to maintaining strong honeybee colonies.
“It is the most desirable source of queens for Manitoba and all of Canada, I would say,” said Jake Rempel, bee supply manager for Bee Maid Honey Ltd., a producer-owned co-operative in Winnipeg.
Hawaii was considered varroa free until mid-October 2009 when a bee yard on the Kona side of the main island was found to be infested. The mite is believed to have arrived via shipments from the continental United States.
Rempel expressed optimism that a protocol allowing import permits for Hawaiian queens to resume will be reached.
“I’m really not worried about it. It’s just a matter of them getting the wording correct on the permit. It’s just a matter of terminology,” he said.
“Nothing has changed, really, except that there’s a chance of getting a queen or two with varroa on them.”
Clay said other countries will probably ramp up their production of queen bees until the Hawaiian situation is resolved.
Canada’s options for importing queen and packaged bees are limited because the varroa is becoming widespread in many countries.
Canada currently imports queens from New Zealand, Chile, Australia and northern California. Packaged bees are allowed from New Zealand, Western Australia and Chile, but not the continental U. S., where the varroa is endemic.
The varroa is also widespread in Canada, causing some honey producers to question the need to continue a 23-year-old ban on U. S. packaged bees.
The uncertainty about queen bee imports comes at a bad time for Canada’s honey producers, who have experienced major bee losses in the last few years.
Manitoba lost 32 per cent of its colonies last year. Bees either died over winter or were too weak to be viable in the spring.
Bee losses have been unusually high throughout North America generally for the last three years.
Scientists believe widespread die-offs are due to a combination of factors, including the varroa.
It’s too early to start measuring 2010 winter losses. But Clay said early reports from Vancouver Island indicate bee losses of up to 60 per cent in some colonies.
“Whatever the problem is, it’s not going away.” [email protected]