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upto 90% loss in Vancouver Island.

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Vancouver Island beekeepers are reeling from the worst commercial honeybee die-off in recent memory, with some estimating almost 90 per cent of colonies have been wiped out in the last few months.

Many blame a harmful parasite called varroa mites that have become immune to some pesticides, and fear the shortage of bees could affect spring pollination.

"The amount of bees that have been lost is just phenomenal," said Sol Nowitz, a veteran commercial beekeeper who breeds bees and produces honey at the Jingle Pot Apiary in Nanaimo. "It's the biggest catastrophe to kill bees on the Island ever."

He estimates there are between 2,000 and 3,000 colonies on the Island, about a quarter of the 12,000 colonies that flourished a few years ago. In 2007, Nowitz had 275 colonies. Now left with 15, he is sold out of honey and can no longer afford to sell bees to other beekeepers.

The last major die-off was in 2007 and 2008, when some breeders lost 55 to 65 per cent of their stock. This year, however, the almost total depletion is a full-blown disaster, Nowitz said.

The mites were first discovered on the Island in 1997 and have wreaked havoc on honeybees since. They infect the bees' immune systems, making them more susceptible to viruses and deformed wings.

But Stan Reist, president of the B.C. Honey Producers Association, said a variety of factors contributed to the deaths -- including a late fall harvest that tires out the bees and the timing of pesticide treatments.

Some fear honey producers will be forced to raise prices or abandon the business altogether.

Reist said the latest crisis could cripple some Island beekeepers.

"We have had three successive years of problems and there are going to be some people who are not going to be able to rebuild," he said.

Meanwhile, in the Fraser Valley, where there are many large commercial apiaries, keepers are reporting that it looks like a stellar year for bees.

If the beekeepers in the Fraser Valley and in the B.C. Interior have been so successful this year, then it gives hope that the problem in the Cowichan Valley is isolated, said provincial apiculturist Paul van Westendorp.

Simon Fraser University bee expert Mark Winston said pesticide use, as well as farming a single type of crop are "bad for bees" because the bee may not be getting enough nutrients from only one kind of nectar or pollen.

"The residue [from pesticides] in bee colonies are showing low levels of hundreds of different compounds. It has become a toxic soup."

Bees thrive in urban areas like Vancouver because of the diversity in plant life, he said, adding that officials should look at ways to create more urban gardens.

"Reduce space for cars and increase opportunities for growing food. And bees will be much happier."
(c) The Vancouver Sun
 

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He estimates there are between 2,000 and 3,000 colonies on the Island, about a quarter of the 12,000 colonies that flourished a few years ago. In 2007, Nowitz had 275 colonies. Now left with 15, he is sold out of honey and can no longer afford to sell bees to other beekeepers.
That is a huge disaster. I lost 65% of my colonies one year and ruined, molded combs made a big money too when I byed new frames and foundations.
 

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