The Government is spending nearly $6 million to stop Australian beekeepers marketing their products as ‘mānuka’ honey.
Chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand Karin Kos says the thefts are costing the industry millions.
And the police are taking the increase in honey and beehive thefts very seriously, she says.
Apiculture NZ and the police are working together on improving intelligence at national and regional levels, and are educating beekeepers on how to keep their honey and hives safe.
Hawke’s Bay’s largest honey producer is stepping up security after having nearly 500,000 bees stolen.
Arataki Honey’s John Walsh has reported the theft of 19 hives from a remote pine forest block in northern Hawke’s Bay.
“We are shocked that someone has targeted the site and taken the bees. We have been wintering these bees, spending a lot of time feeding and protecting them over the winter. We believe it would be about $20,000 in losses.
“I think it was a planned operation and the person who took them was someone who knew what they were doing. You don’t just take off with a boot-load of bees without having some beekeeping expertise.”
Walsh says it is challenging to monitor rural and remote sites.
“We’re working hard on security and trying to get the hives behind locked gates, but these guys know what they are doing.”
Last season Arataki had 16 hives stolen from the Napier-Taupo Road. These two thefts have prompted the company to begin installing better surveillance systems in remote areas.
“We need to monitor these rural areas better. We are concerned that the problem’s becoming more widespread as the honey industry is on the rise,” says Walsh.
Arataki beekeeper Duncan Johnstone made the latest discovery, and says in his 20 years on the job, bee thieving is at its worst.
“I’m annoyed because we put a lot of work into these hives over the winter, feeding the bees and running varroa mite protection. It’s gutting that this hard work has gone to waste.
“The industry used to be a real gentleman’s game and now all of a sudden this ‘underground’ element has crept in. It’s hugely disappointing.”
Johnstone says the thieves sifted through the best hives where bee numbers were highest, leaving five hives that weren’t so good.
“Manuka honey is driving the crime as it is now one of NZ’s highest priced exports.”