Maf lifts controls against varroa

The battle to stop the spread of the varroa bee mite to the south of New Zealand has been abandoned.

Movement controls designed to stop the honey bee parasite spreading into South Canterbury, Otago and Southland will be revoked today.

Maf Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) said yesterday the varroa infestation in North Canterbury was now "beyond the point" where it could be eradicated or contained.

National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand president Frans Laas, of Mosgiel, described it as "disappointing" but "inevitable".

It had been hoped to make a last stand at the Waitaki River but Maf "wouldn't wear that".

Federated Farmers bees chairman John Hartnell said last night industry members would still like to discuss with Maf the opportunity for a southern control line to delay the mite's spread south.

"The fight won't be over until varroa reaches Bluff."

MAFBNZ incursion manager Richard Norman said 17 beekeeping operations in the Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts had been confirmed positive for varroa.

"High levels of mites detected in some operations suggest varroa may have been present for six months, which suggests varroa is established and widespread," he said.

"Movement controls can only attempt to reduce the risk of human-assisted spread. They do not address local spread by bees drifting between hives, robbing, and swarming," he said.

Mr Laas said varroa would first become evident in drone bee broods and show up as red spots on white pupae.

The hives can be treated with pyrethrum, but treatment costs $10 to $20 a hive and is not 100% effective.

Uncontrolled, varroa will usually "kill" a bee colony within a year.

Otago has 50,000 hives and 350 beekeepers, mostly hobbyists.

Since the arrival of varroa in Auckland seven years ago, the number of registered beekeepers in New Zealand had declined from 5000 to 2600 as hobbyists left the industry.

Larger operators, more willing to grapple with the varroa problem, have become more dominant.

Mr Laas predicted the varroa would also wipe out most of Otago's feral bee population.

Varroa Agency chairman Duncan Butcher said farmers who relied on feral bees for pollination would have to put hives on their properties to ensure their crops were pollinated.


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