To bee or not to bee – questions buzzing at Grand Falls-Windsor council

Local keeper opposes bid from Cranberry Association NL to import bees


Published on May 16, 2017

Beekeeper Trevor Tuck

©Contributed Image

GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL — Nothing gets Grand Falls-Windsor bee farmer Trevor Tuck buzzing quite like the subject of importing bees into Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

A request from the Cranberry Association NL (CANL) to the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor had Tuck on the floor of the council chambers in late April. He was there to explain the dangers of importing bees into the province. 

CANL has requested a letter of support from the town, in a bid to receive approval from the province to allow bumblebee imports for cranberry pollination. The imports are needed if farmers are to maximize yields this season, and CANL also cites availability and cost of local bees among their issues, according to the minutes from an April 25 Committee of the Whole meeting. 

The Advertiser reached out to CANL, but they declined comment in the matter, citing ongoing negotiations.

The importation of bumblebees and honeybees is outlawed in Newfoundland unless a special permit is obtained from the provincial government. The world’s pollinators are dying in droves due to parasitic infection and disease, contagious parasitic infection and disease, hence the ban.

The town is nonetheless currently considering the support letter request, which doesn’t sit well with Tuck. 

“We are one of three places in the world that is disease-free,” said Tuck. “Right now, we have demand from researchers around the world that are looking to address the problems that plague the honeybee industry. This is a global concern.”

The efficiency of bumblebee versus honeybee was another issue identified by CANL representative Lloyd Warford at the April 25 meeting.  

Tuck says the issue is moot: honeybee hives are far larger, at least 10 times, and any inefficiency is made up for in sheer numbers. 

Tuck says the quality of the bee must also be considered. 

“Generally, its used bees they bring in,” said Tuck. “They have been out on other farms on the mainland and are at the end of their cycle up there.” 

The result is a less-effective pollinator, and increased exposure to parasites and disease, according to Tuck.  

The Town of Grand Falls-Windsor can see both sides. They want to see the cranberry industry fostered in the region and hope to bring both parties together. The province’s focus on agriculture means the time is ripe to build the burgeoning industry, but not at the expense of another, says Deputy Mayor Darren Finn.

“I don’t think what appears to be cheap bees from other parts of Canada, that are used in other fields, can maintain their certification,” said Finn. “It may have been seen to be a short cut, which is not really a viable short cut.”  

Finn, while not an expert, would rather see queen bees imported under the current strict guidelines to build native colonies. He also suggested the province wade into the fray and offer subsidies to farmers for pollination services.

“Having a subsidized pollination service is a common practice in other provinces across Canada and is a major part of agricultural growth,” said Finn. “So it’s something we’ve decided to start the discussion on with government.” 

Used or not, Tuck is against importation of any bees. The strict importation restrictions imposed by the province are credited with maintaining the native population’s disease-free status. Tuck says he can supply all the bees needed by the province’s cranberry farmers; they just have to start planning properly.

“The way it works around the rest of the world, the growers and the pollination service providers have contracts in place at least a year in advance,” said Tuck. “That way, I know how many hives the berry growers want.” 

Tuck says farmers have to start accounting for, and securing, pollination services annually. Gambling on native pollinators or importing bees is just too risky.

“The honeybees are here. We can do it here locally,” said Tuck. “Why would you send money out of province and risk putting our worldwide status of being one of the few places to produce clean honeybees?" 

The Advertiser contacted the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources for comment.

“The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources has received a request from the cranberry association asking for clarification on the importation of Bombus impatiens (Bumblebees) for the purpose of pollination,” media relations manager Connie Boland said in an emailed statement.

“Under the Wildlife Act, the importation of non-native species is prohibited. The department is examining this issue.”

The Advertiser also requested information on the factors considered in the examination process. The department provided no response to the question, however.

Patrick.Murphy@SaltWire.com

 

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