SAD AFFAIR Bill Termeer says the thief must have been familiar with his operation and the location of his hives as many were “quite well hidden”
The theft of frames containing more than three million bees from 170 hives has been a “huge hit” for Peace-region beekeeper Bill Termeer — and he suspects it might be someone he knows.
“I think it is a local, someone familiar with the hive sites since some are quite well hidden,” said the owner of Moondance Honey, a large commercial operation north of Sexsmith.
“That sure narrows it down.”
The thefts occurred at eight locations over a four-week period beginning in May. Culprits removed frames of brood, larvae, eggs and queen and replaced them with empty frames that are not his. That made the thefts hard to spot, but with increasing reports of queenless hives and then employees noting the replacement frames were different, Termeer notified the RCMP.
Alberta’s beekeeping community is close knit and Termeer said producers regularly share information and attend meetings and conferences together. That makes the thefts all the harder to take.
“If you were having wintering or disease/pests problems, why didn’t you reach out to the rest of the beekeeping community and ask for help?” says Termeer. “Is it fair to your neighbour to put him into financial jeopardy as well?”
He estimates the value of the stolen honey at $40,000 and the value of the bees at about $50,000. Termeer is offering a $2,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest of the individual responsible for the theft. The Alberta Beekeepers Association called this a very unusual case and said thefts of this kind are rare.
Termeer said he is optimistic he can recover up to 70 per cent of the bees over the winter.
“Some of the frames that were left had eggs and larvae and they’ve already begun raising queens,” Termeer said.
Termeer runs about 3,000 hives on 70 locations in a 50-kilometre-square area across the Peace country. He started in 1996 with about 600 hives, but like grain and cattle farmers, the honey industry has evolved into more larger operations, and fewer smaller ones. Moondance Honey employs eight during the high season.
Termeer overwinters his hives on site, wrapped in special insulation instead of moving hives indoors or to southern B.C.
“Wintering them on site in well-sheltered locations works best,” he said. “It’s less costly and time consuming with less stress on the bees.”
Still, Termeer lost 40 per cent of his bees two years ago due to a combination of harsh temperatures, mites and diseases.
“We have lots to deal with we didn’t have before,” he said.
After the border was closed to bees in the mid-1980s to keep out varroa mites, Canadian beekeepers were no longer able to buy packages (two to four pounds of bees and a queen) from the U.S. Queen bees can still be imported from the U.S., usually Hawaii and California. Bee packages can be purchased from New Zealand and Australia, but at $150 each, the cost can be prohibitive. Termeer brings in 1,000 queens annually to split hives and raise populations.
“The bee industry has its ups and downs,” he said. “There was a period of very low honey prices where it’s been difficult to make a buck and then over the past five years we’ve had better honey prices, but also more disease and pest problems.”