By Paulina Vidal, Alexandra Jones and Ursula Malone

The movement of bees within New South Wales has been halted following the discovery last week of a deadly parasite at the Port of Newcastle.

The statewide emergency order, which took effect at 6pm on Sunday, aims to prevent the spread of Varroa destructor, commonly called varroa mite, and described as the number one threat for Australia’s bee industry.

Police along with biosecurity officers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Local Land Services have been tasked with overseeing compliance.

It means that all hives or bee products are in a state of lockdown.

Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Dugald Saunders said they weren’t sure how and when the parasite got into the country but investigations were ongoing.

He also said the government was not taking any risks.

“The lockdown is a fairly strict one and it’s a message to all beekeepers both hobby and professionally that we need them to be helping monitor the situation and making sure that we don’t see varroa mite spread across the state,” he said.

a man looking
Mr Saunders says the government will not be taking any risks.(ABC News)

An industry worth more than $70 million annually is at stake if the mite were to take hold.

“We know that people value the ability from an Australian beekeeper point of view and from a New South Wales point of view to say we are varroa mite-free,” Mr Saunders said.

“It means no reliance on chemicals to keep them at bay and it  means we are the cleanest and greenest  producers of honey around the world.”

The minister said he was also working with the industry to minimise the impact on food production.

The mite was first detected last Wednesday in two of the six hives used to monitor biosecurity at the port following a routine inspection.

It was also discovered in the hives of a nearby commercial beekeeper.

A fourth site in the vicinity has since emerged with hives across all the affected areas now destroyed.

a parasite on a beehive
The varroa mite is described as the most serious pest for honeybees.(AAP: Denis Anderson)

An emergency 10-kilometre zone set up on Friday will remain in place where “eradication plans will be enacted”.

Monitoring will also occur within a 25km surveillance zone around the Port of Newcastle.

Acting CEO of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council Danny Le Feuvre, said the industry has been prepared for incursions of the mite for a long time, given its endemic status overseas.

“When an incursion is detected there’s an automatic emergency response that occurs,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

“So from the point of infection we have different zones— a 10km eradication zone, a 25km surveillance zone and out to 50 kilometres is a buffer zone.

“There is compensation available for beekeepers who have hives destroyed in the emergency zones, so it will be devastating for them just from losing those hives, but also an emotional impact, so the industry will be rallying behind everyone involved in this emergency.”

a man sitting on a fence
Mr Le Feuvre says the industry is hopeful the outbreak will be contained.(YouTube: AgExcellence)

Government contact tracers found a commercial beekeeper near the port had recently sent some of his hives to Trangie, 450 kilometres away.

While that batch did not contain the parasite they will be destroyed as a precaution.

Mr Le Feuvre said these measures gave the industry some hope the outbreak could be contained.

“We’ve had incursions in the past … and we’re really confident that we’ve still got this contained, we haven’t got any new detections outside the Port of Newcastle”

“However, should it get out of the zone, beekeepers will be impacted, and it will impact pollination services and honey production across the state.

“We’ve still very hopeful we can eradicate it. It’s very early days so there’s no way to know how long this crisis might take.”

Operational centres have been established in Orange and Maitland.


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