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Varroa mite induces ban on bee movement

Victoria has imposed restrictions prohibiting the movement of bees and bee products from New South Wales, following the detection of Varroa mite in biosecurity surveillance hives at the Port of Newcastle.

On Tuesday, June 28, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) issued an emergency order in response to the current varroa mite outbreak to euthanise bees in emergency zones to eradicate the pest parasite.

Since the initial detection of Varroa mite, the NSW DPI has detected further infestations and has established additional emergency zones in response.

As of Sunday, July 3, the NSW DPI confirmed 16 premises at Tanilba Bay, Salt Ash, Mayfield East, Somersby, Tomago, south of Newcastle and the Port of Newcastle had varroa mite infiltrating their hives.

Varroa mites are tiny red-brown external parasites of adult honey bees that mainly feed and reproduce on larvae and pupae in the developing honey bee brood, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees and transmitting numerous viruses.

Australia is the only significant honey-producing country free from Varroa mites. These parasites are considered the greatest threat to Australia’s honey and honeybee pollination plant industries, with estimations that varroa mite could result in losses of $70 million a year should it become established in Australia.

The NSW DPI has destroyed roughly six million bees in the red zone as part of the statewide emergency order to control the movement of hives and stop the spread of the deadly parasites.

Dr Chris Anderson, NSW DPI Manager of Plant Biosecurity Prevention and Preparedness, said the NSW DPI continues to act and protect the NSW bee industry to arrest the spread of the threat.

“The varroa mite response plan has also been updated while it remains necessary to euthanise honeybee colonies in the eradication zones and destroy internal hive equipment such as brood and honey frames,” Dr Anderson said.

“Other equipment will only be destroyed when a risk assessment deems it necessary, with options to decontaminate external equipment such as hive boxes, pallets and straps, as well as metal ware so that beekeepers can retain them.”

Victoria has restricted bees and all bee products, including honey, from NSW as a necessary measure to support the national response against Varroa mite.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Plant Health Officer, Dr Stephen Dibley said the restrictions would ensure Varroa mite is kept out of Victoria and protect beekeepers.

“Varroa mite is a serious threat to Australia’s bee population and horticulture industries that rely on pollination,” Dr Dibley said.

“The restrictions mean that no bees, hives or beekeeping equipment can be moved into Victoria from New South Wales without a permit.

“However, no permits will be granted while the NSW standstill is in place to comply with NSW emergency orders.

“We will also be supporting the New South Wales government in their response.”

There has been no detections of Varroa mite in Victoria, and restrictions are in place to prevent that from happening, but Dr Dibley said beekeepers should be vigilant with their surveillance of hives.

“Beekeepers should inspect their hives regularly for signs of Varroa mite and other exotic pests, using the appropriate methods including sugar shake and drone uncapping,” he said.

Any suspect detections must be reported immediately to the national Exotic Plant Pest Hotline.

Authorities are investigating the origins of the Varroa mite, and continue exterminating tens of millions of bees in a desperate attempt to save Australia’s honey industry from a devastating mite plague.

For NSW beekeepers, this is a devasting blow, with many already feeling the full-frontal effects of the Varroa mite outbreak.

On Wednesday, July 6, Agriculture Victoria sanctioned additional measures for beekeepers for this year’s almond pollination season, requiring all beekeepers, local and interstate, to apply for a permit to move hives into Victoria’s Sunraysia region.

Changes were put in place effective immediately, impacting the movement of bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products. However, products including processed honey, wax, new beekeeping tools and equipment are exempt from movement restrictions and can be transported freely into and within Victoria.

In Agriculture Victoria’s determination to protect Victoria’s bees from Varroa mite, all beekeepers must obtain a permit for the movement of any bees, hives, used beekeeping equipment and bee products into Victoria if they were in NSW at any time after January 1, 2022.

These measures have been put in place by Agriculture Victoria to safeguard Victoria’s bees from Varroa mite in hopes of preventing what would be a catastrophic blow to the beekeeping industry.

Restrictions on bee movements to control and manage this threat have come at a critical time for Sunraysia almond producers, with about 277,000 hives needed to pollinate their crops in August, nearly half of which usually come from NSW and Queensland.

Mr Dibley said these new measures provided assurance for the almond industry heading into pollination season, and would help with contact tracing if Varroa mite is detected in Victoria.

“The permit system helps ensure the almond pollination can proceed in a manner that won’t jeopardise Victoria’s bees,” he said.

“If you plan to take beehives to the Sunraysia region from any location, please visit the Agriculture Victoria website and apply for a permit.”

Varroa mite is a serious threat to Australia’s bee population and horticultural industries that rely on pollination.

Dr Dibley said although the Victorian permit system would help protect bees during this busy time, Victorian beekeepers should stay vigilant.

“Check your hives for varroa mite if the weather is appropriate, and if you see anything suspicious, please report it immediately to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.”

Victoria has imposed a border ban on bees and bee products from New South Wales in the wake of a Varroa mite detection.

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