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CBC Radio On the Go, Interview with NL Provincial Apiarist, Karen Kennedy, 12 July 2022

Provincial bee protection strategy | On The Go with Anthony Germain | Live Radio | CBC Listen


Annotations/comments by Armitage in red

Martin Jones: With summer kicking into high gear, you may have come across some honey bees doing what they do; buzzing around flowers, pollinating, not just making honey, but essentially keeping Nature going. They are a keystone species. Well last week we heard from a beekeeper who told us the Province is unprepared for the varroa mite. That parasite spreads a deadly disease that destroys entire bee colonies.  Peter Armitage told On the Go he was part of a planning team that designed a strategy to combat the illness, but he fears the provincial government has let that drop.

Karen Kennedy is the Province's Fruit Crop Development Officer and Provincial Apiarist. I spoke with her earlier today from Pynns Brook on the West Coast of the Island.

Before we get to what the Province is doing to get ready here, how serious is Varroa for beekeepers in this province? ¤ (0:00:54.4)

Kennedy: Varroa is the number one concern for beekeepers of all pests that affect honey bees, primarily because they can reproduce exponentially, and one Varroa present in a colony, it's an ectoparasite, so it's an insect on an insect, and it basically sucks the bee's blood, or the haemolymph. Once it's in a colony, it's really hard to control. Like I said, it's an insect on an insect, and they can basically can detriment the hive to non-existent.  So once you find it, it's not a good thing. And hard to recover from.

[Varroa destructor is an ectoparastic arachnid not an insect. Here are the taxonomic trees of Varroa and Apis mellifera (Western honey bee) (see  



Western honey bee



Apis mellifera

Varroa destructor
















The claim that Varroa “sucks the bee's blood, or the haemolymph” is also erroneous. As I explained in my interview with Anthony Germain on July 5, 2022, Varroa penetrates the exoskeleton of the honey bee and feeds on the “fat bodies” found in the haemolymph.  These entities function like the human liver.  See Ramsey, S.D., Ochoa, R., Bauchan, G., Gulbronson, C., Mowery, J.D., Cohen, A., Lim, D., Joklik, J., Cicero, J.M., Ellis, J.D. and Hawthorne, D., 2019. Varroa destructor feeds primarily on honey bee fat body tissue and not hemolymph. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(5), pp.1792-1801].

Jones: It's potential devastation for a hive, right?

Kennedy: Yes.

Jones: And what are the concerns then about how Varroa could make it to this Island?

Kennedy: So, yeh, we would be naive to think that potentially it would never come to Newfoundland. Obviously there's always that risk factor. So the primary, the primary way that it would come to Newfoundland would be basically through illegal importation; so someone bringing a colony or a package of bees, or a queen bee with attendants that currently have Varroa on them, or haphazardly through ports of entry where a colony may have been, say attached to something in a shipping container, something like that. But primarily it would be through an illegal importation, from someone coming from the Mainland of Canada or even receiving it via mail. ¤ (0:02:41.6)

[I am 100% in agreement with Kennedy’s risk assessment, with illegal importation the highest risk followed by ports of entry]

Jones: I mentioned in the introduction there that we spoke to a beekeeper last week on the show who suggested that the Province just isn't prepared for the arrival of this virus. What's your response to that?

Kennedy: Well, it's not a virus, so it's a pest. It does harbour viruses, so it basically it can transmit viruses that we don't currently have. So my answer to that is that that comment is erroneous. It's not completely valid. [Note: Armitage did not say Varroa is a virus, the CBC journalist did]. Since, I guess since 2016, the Province has taken the honey bee file extremely serious. [We give credit where credit is due.  Prior to Karen Kennedy assuming the half-time post of provincial apiarist, NL beekeepers had almost no presence on the national apicultural scene.  Kennedy helped give us some profile.  E.g., she facilitated our participation in the annual winter loss surveys by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists and a national honey bee health survey in the period 2016-2017. She also provided more coherent liaison between provincial beekeepers and government.] And, I think in 2019, we created an amendment to the Animal Health and Protection Act [introduced by Minister Byrne 16 June 2020]. So, with that Act, we basically have been given the power to create a new Honey Bee Regulation. So, under the Animal Health and Protection Act, we currently still can enforce, control, of say [unclear] a Varroa-free bees, and if Varroa were to come here, we have control measures to do that, to eradicate that pest, but through the creation of this new regulation, it becomes more powerful, and it's a regulation that will basically be specific to honey bees in particular as opposed to animals as a whole. To say that we're not ready isn't necessarily accurate because under these new regulations, we basically met with the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association. We created a working group with them, we consulted them, and whatever they had basically asked, which primarily was a regulatory reform, we have been enforcing. So, in the future, which is currently in the works, we are mandating mandatory inspections, mandatory registration, stricter quarantine protocols, and stricter fines for those who may import bees illegally.

[The terms of reference for the working group include changes to the Act and associated regulations, a Varroa Action Plan, other measures to protect honey bee health, strategies to develop the apicultural industry in NL, and possible development of an apicultural research program at FFA’s Wooddale facility].

Jones: You talk there about these new regulations. When will those regulations be up and running? ¤ (0:05:04.8)

Kennedy: So, right now we're in a process of having them enforced. But to give an exact date, I don't have an answer for that. Unfortunately, that has to be asked to someone at a higher level in government than I.

[This is a question for the current FFA minister, the Honourable Derrick Bragg. See my question #1 in my response to Karen Kennedy]

Jones: So, walk me through the steps will be taken if a beekeeper contacts you and says "I think I found the varroa mite on one of my bees." What happens then? 

Kennedy: So, we would come to the apiary where Varroa is suspected. We would do an inspection. If Varroa is found, we will quarantine that colony and any colonies within a six kilometre radius. If Varroa is present, then the colonies are eradicated, and if we then find a new colony outside of the 6 km radius, we will quarantine the rest of those colonies as well, and re-assess. 

Jones: And then keep going until basically you don't find that mite anymore.

[This delimitation (surveillance) strategy, if that’s what it is, lacks coherence.  What science of Varroa reproductive biology and epidemiology informs this strategy? See my question #12 in my response to Karen Kennedy]

Kennedy: Correct. And usually...the quarantine protocol is in effect for one full calendar year under the [original?] Animal Health and Protection Act.

Jones: What if anything can be done by beekeepers to keep their bees safe? ¤ (0:06:28.9)

Kennedy: They can perform mite monitoring. So, there's a lot of different monitoring techniques. So, through the last two years, the NLBKA has helped out substantially, and we've given training to individuals on Varroa monitoring. You can use sticky board on bottom boards to monitor.  If Varroa is present, they would drop down through the colony onto the sticky board. We have Varroa shakers that have been distributed across the province. They can monitor their bees using these Varroa shakers. And also reporting if any illegal activity has taken place. If they know that. So, what happens is if you are suspicious, that Varroa is present, or you have Varroa, you contact the provincial apiarist, and then we basically take measures to confine and assist. ¤ (0:07:28.7)

[FFA can help provincial beekeepers even more by developing  immediately a coherent and well-resourced crisis management plan to deal with the Varroa threat]

Jones: My last question is about branding. How important is it to protect the bee population and its pristine nature in a sense? Right now I know there are products that market themselves as coming from a place, one of the few places in the world, where honey bees are disease-free. Talk a little bit about the branding then, if and when this pest arrives in this province.

Kennedy: I've never been asked that question. Not having Varroa, honestly, gives producers a leg-up, and allows them to promote themselves as Varroa-free, pest-free, miticide free. If Varroa were to come, we would lose that branding. Individuals wouldn't be able to market themselves that way. And potentially, if they wanted to export, if Newfoundland got to a point where we could export, we wouldn't be able to export as Varroa-free.

Jones: Right. Interesting conversation here. Listen, thank you for having it with me this afternoon. I really appreciate it.

Kennedy: You're welcome.  Thanks for having me.

Jones: Karen Kennedy is the Province's Fruit Crop Development Officer and Provincial Apiarist. And during our chat, she mentioned mandatory registration and inspections for beekeepers. Those rules apply to all beekeepers including commercial, small-scale, and hobbyists. ¤ (0:08:52.6)

[It is not clear to whom mandatory inspections will apply.  Beekeepers have not yet seen draft changes to the existing regulations under the Animal Health and Protection Act. Proposed changes should be subject to public consultation.  When these revisions will be made, and public consultation concerning them undertaken, are matters for FFA minister, the Honourable Derrick Bragg, to address].

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