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Keep our bees clean, says association president

I write as president of the Newfoundland & Labrador Beekeeping Association (NLBKA) to follow up on the article in the Advertiser concerning the presentation and discussion at the Grand Falls-Windsor Council meeting about importation of bumble bees for pollination of cranberries.

From the article, we understand council is aware of the potential for large, long-term, irreversible problems that could come from importation of non-native species of bumble bees for pollination. Trevor Tuck, a commercial beekeeper in your area, explained there are alternatives to these importations. The NLBKA thanks the council for its balanced and cautious approach to this discussion, which raised a number of the concerns the association has voiced.
The NLBKA has been communicating with the provincial government through Minister Steve Crocker to register our opposition to this request. We were informed the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources would develop a “balanced policy” considering the information that has been provided. There are already provincial regulations in place to prohibit any importation of wildlife (bumble bees are considered wildlife) without ministerial approval.
The NLBKA has also requested the NL Federation of Agriculture set up a meeting so all agriculture sectors (Cranberry Association of NL, the Horticultural Council of NL, and Beekeeping Association) can meet face-to-face to discuss the issue. That meeting should take place in the first couple of weeks of June. This would not be a “quick fix,” but a multi-year process to find mutually acceptable ways to meet the pollination needs of cranberry farmers in the province.
We have also summarized the reasons for our opposition to the bumble bee importation in a short list, which follows. These reasons are backed up by a great deal of scientific, peer-reviewed literature and discussions with relevant parties on the mainland.
The NLBKA will continue to work on fostering and developing the beekeeping industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. We want to protect the unique status of our honey bees and the native pollinators as free from most of the serious pests and pathogens that have decimated populations in most of the world. There are only a few remote places such as Newfoundland and Labrador, the Isle of Man, Tasmania and Western Australia that have relatively “clean bees” today.
Finally, we note the public is nervous about the health of our honey bees and other pollinators. We share their expectations that our provincial government will maintain and enhance its existing safeguards to protect their health, and we are committed to working with the other agricultural sectors.

Catherine Dempsey

President, NLBKA

Newfoundland & Labrador Beekeeping Association is strongly opposed to this importation for the following reasons:
- Bombus impatiens is not native to Newfoundland.
- Importation of Bombus impatiens quads could lead quickly to the permanent establishment of this species in the province.
- Bombus impatiens could out-compete native bumble bee species with potentially significant consequences for pollinator and plant ecosystems, and the maintenance of agricultural ecosystem.
- Pathogen spillover from Bombus impatiens to native bumble bee species and honey bees is a serious risk. Honey bee stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador are relatively free of many of the pathogens, diseases and pests found elsewhere in North America. Bees previously used in other fields in other provinces are even more likely to bring pathogens.
- Every possible effort must be made to prevent the spread of pathogens, diseases and pests to bumble bees and honey bees in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Bombus impatiens importation proposal is far too risky given our lack of baseline knowledge about:
1. native pollinator species in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador;
2. the absence of baseline data concerning pathogen profiles in these species, both here in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick;
3. the potential of species competition for forage; and,
4. substantial evidence of pathogen spillover elsewhere in North America as well as Europe.
- Bombus impatiens quads were illegally imported in 2015. In the spring of 2016 queen bees that had overwintered were identified and collected from that farm.
- The honey bee industry is growing quickly in the province. As well as the production of honey, beekeepers can provide pollination services both through contracted delivery of hives to crops when in blossom, and just by being located near a farm, garden or orchard. Commercial beekeepers can also make other products using the beeswax, propolis and royal jelly.
- Finally, after the number of apiaries increases in our province and the industry gains momentum, the varroa mite-free Newfoundland bees could be the source for a new industry in our province, providing queens and nucleus colonies for other parts of the world. 

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