Native bees at risk from Varroa Mite eradication plan

A native blue banded bee. Photo: Erica Seigel.

NATIVE beekeepers are concerned over the potential use of Fipronil baits to euthanise honeybees suspected of being infested by the Varroa mite.

The Varroa Mite has spread from the Port of Newcastle to Port Stephens, Bulahdelah and Narrabri in the north and in the south to Gateshead and Calga near Sydney.

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While native bees are not threatened by the Varroa mite itself, the eradication program planned by the NSW Department of Primary Industry is potentially deadly.

Tomaree Headland is just one location in the region that has been declared a Virus Red Zone.

DPI is planning to set baits with ‘Fipronil’ to attract Honey Bees that will take the poison back to hives, thereby killing any bee hive – managed or wild.

Native beekeeper Tim Meharg told News Of The Area, “The problem for stingless bees, plus others in the area such as the Blue Banded Bees, is that the bait will kill them.”

There are steps that can be taken to save colonies of native bees.

Feral European honey bee foragers will visit these baits and take the Fipronil back to their nests, killing the colony.

Plans are underway to make this as safe as possible for non-target species including native bees.

The poisoned baits will only be set out for one hour at a time and they will be closely monitored by an officer.

“Nevertheless, this eradication effort still poses substantial risks to native bee colonies that are in, or near to, the red Eradication Zones.

“Fipronil is highly toxic to bees.”

You can legally move your Australian native bees, even if they are in the red, purple or yellow zones.

DPI states, “Native bees and native bee hives are not covered under the Biosecurity Act and therefore can be moved legally in NSW.”

Dan Smailes, Sydney Native Bees, is offering help to anyone that may need help to move their native bee hive or an identified wild native bee hive to safety.

There is a network of help available where native stingless bees can be moved to and fostered.

It is currently illegal to move any colony of European honeybees.

The community is being urged to report any known nests of native stingless bees in a tree that is in, or near, the red Eradication Zones.

You could protect it too, either by closing up the nest entrance with metal gauze while eradication work is underway.

Again Dan Smailes is offering assistance with this process.

Dan can be contacted by message to 0404 604 569.

The Australian National University states that to date no country has successfully eradicated the Varroa mite.

An $18 million compensation package has been developed for registered beekeepers affected by the varroa mite outbreak, under an agreement reached by governments and industry.

The National Management Group (NMG) for Emergency Plant Pests has endorsed a National Response Plan to eradicate Varroa Destructor from NSW.

The NMG comprises Commonwealth and State governments and pollination dependent industries and the honey bee industry.

Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt said the agreement will see registered commercial beekeepers reimbursed for all equipment, hives and bees that are destroyed in the eradication process, as well as the costs of honey.

“We are firmly committed to the national response plan,” Minister Watt said.

“Varroa mite is the most significant threat to our honey bee and pollination industries and we unanimously agree that it is both technically feasible and economically beneficial to remove it from our shores.”

NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said eradication is the primary goal, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ strong initial response measures and contact tracing work have made this possible.

“We still have an unbroken chain of infected premises and have extensive surveillance operations in place to find and destroy any further cases,” Mr Saunders said.

“I want to thank the entire beekeeping community for their commitment and vigilance during this time.”

Danny Le Feuvre from the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council said it was great to see the recognition from all governments and industries of the importance of the bee industry.

“Industry fully supports the eradication efforts and appreciates the professionalism and commitment of DPI’s incident management team,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“Agreement to provide reimbursement costs to our members will ensure the success of the eradication program.

“The approval of the plan and funding demonstrates the importance of the partnership between pollination dependent industries, the honey bee industry and the government.”

The National Management Group also endorsed compensation for licensed recreational beekeepers in recognition of their critical role in the response to this incursion.

The NSW Government is putting on an additional 26 compliance and surveillance officers to manage risk to facilitate key pollination events and ensure business continuity.


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