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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Aussies Throw in the Towel on Varroa Eradication

Despite a bill of AUD$132 million and more than 30,000 hives euthanised, Australia’s 15-month fight to eradicate Varroa destructor from their shores has ended, with the decision made on September 20 to move to a management plan as new detections across New South Wales emerged. So, what’s the plan now?

Until June 2022 Australia was seen as the last major land-mass on Earth where varroa mites had not taken hold, but that is no more. Now beekeepers and officials are hoping they can slow the spread of the parasite across the country, giving them time to prepare and avoid the negative impacts to hive health and business finances for as long as possible.

Former Hunter, Central Coast and Kempsey red eradication zones become orange "management" zones when Australia decided to abandon varroa eradication efforts in September. The green area is the suppression zone. (Supplied: NSW DPI)

Varroa was initially detected at Port of Newcastle and, while it was hoped to have been contained to nearby areas, recent detections, including a significant outbreak further north in Kempsey, mean further eradication efforts are no longer deemed practical. The National Management Group who were overseeing the response say beekeepers moving hives within containment zones has contributed to the spread.

While Australian Honey Bee Industry Council chief executive Danny Le Feuvre – who spoke of the eradication efforts at Apiculture New Zealand’s national conference in June – is disappointed at their failure, he says the final decision that needed to be made was clear.

Danny Le Feuvre, chief executive Australian Honey Bee Industry Council.

“If we were to continue down that (eradication of hives) path, it would have killed the industry,” Le Feuvre admits.

The response to date has been one of the largest biosecurity incursion responses ever made in Australia and Le Feuvre says it was “worth having a red hot go at it”.

A mix of both managed and wild colonies had been euthanised during the 15-month response, with fipronil laced bait stations used to take out the significant feral bee population in some areas. Some beekeepers have had all their hives destroyed too, and Le Feuvre is disappointed the huge financial and emotional toll has not paved a way to eradication success.

“We need to acknowledge and respect the sacrifices those beekeepers have made, but now we need to look forward and think about how we are going to manage and deal with the mite,” he says.

“The compensation packages offered to many beekeepers haven’t fully made up for their loss of income. It has been devastating to businesses, some of which were inter-generational.”

Even those beekeepers who have not had hives destroyed, but who have been unable to visit their hives or move them, might be able to opt for voluntary euthanasia of them and, with it, compensation.

“Those hives have been sitting without food, without forage and the beekeepers have not been able to make money from them. So, we have advocated for those beekeepers to be able to now get an allowance to elect for euthanasia of them and a compensation package. We don’t want to be giving back hives that are not healthy or fit for purpose,” Le Feuvre says.

There are 26 stakeholder groups weighing in as a full management plan is considered. In the meantime an interim plan is in place which separates NSW into ‘suppression’ and ‘management’ zones to define movement allowances. A full and final plan is likely to take some time to get agreement upon.

“We are not expecting varroa to move through the landscape like a wildfire, it will be slow and we do have time, but we do need beekeepers to continue to monitor for mites to keep a check on the mite numbers moving forward.”

Beekeepers are therefore being asked to conduct mite washes every 16 weeks and report results.

Educational resources on managing bees with varroa will be made available, but Le Feuvre says, as evidenced in New Zealand, colony losses are inspected to increase.

“Previously our bees have been able to sustain themselves with very minimal intervention from the beekeepers … The way we keep bees is going to change.”



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