Pollinators for British Columbia

250,000 essential bees almost did not reach Canada this year

Importing bees is a challenge Rod Scarlett knows well. When most international flights stopped in March, thousands of queen bees were stranded abroad, and Scarlett, the executive director of the Canadian Honey Council, had to figure out how to get them to Canada on time.

“The early spring is when we really need queens from an area that can provide them. That is, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Chile,” he said.

Bees are essential to B.C.’s agricultural sector; the province’s $370 million blueberry, raspberry and tree fruit crops depend on them. They contribute an estimated $538 million to the provincial economy overall.

Habitat loss and pesticides have decimated native pollinator populations. Bumblebees have seen their relative abundance crash by 97 per cent, with the sharpest decline occurring in the past 30 years. 

Beekeepers lose roughly 20 per cent of their colonies during the winter, Scarlett explained, and the colonies that aren’t killed can emerge from the season weakened — a major issue for Canadian beekeepers, and the farmers relying on them to pollinate crops early in the season. That is why Canada import bees from warmer (and bee-disease free) places.

Castanet.net explains that due to the pandemic, Air Canada, usually the main bee transporter, stopped flying in all animals.

“As COVID-19 began to reshape our reality, there was a real possibility that the bees would not be imported,” wrote Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food in an op-ed. “The outlook was grim.”

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