The emergence of the varroa mite has left a NSW Central Coast beekeeper with a difficult choice - after his bees and hives are destroyed he can move his operation or wait three years.
The Department of Primary Industries began destroying bees in the identified eradication areas on Monday in an attempt to eliminate the the deadly honeybee parasite that was first detected at Port of Newcastle biosecurity hives in June.
The eradication area covers parts of Newcastle, the Central Coast and Port Stephens, and hives with no mites will also be destroyed.
Central Coast beekeeper Dolfi Benesh said there's no varroa in the dozens of hives he uses to produce honey near Wyong, but his operation hangs in the balance.
"After they kill my bees if I want to bounce back, which I can, I'm a professional beekeeper, they wouldn't allow me," he said. "I'm not allowed to get new bees in the same position for the next three years."
Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders announced support packages for commercial and recreational beekeepers on Friday, followed by the DPI announcing the "euthanasia and destruction" phase of its response on Saturday.
Mr Saunders' announcement mentions "a requirement under a response plan that bees be quarantined in, or excluded from, a specified area", and he confirmed what that means.
"Under the agreed response plan the aim is to eradicate all hosts of varroa mite and to maintain this for three years to minimise the risk of reintroduction or the survival of the mite on undetected hosts," he said.
"Beekeepers will not be able to reintroduce hives or replace bees in the eradication zones. No new bees can be brought into the eradication zone for a period of at least three years."
The 'common sense' of eradicating them is not there- Central Coast beekeeper Dolfi Benesh
In surveillance zones, beekeepers can maintain their current hives but not move them.
Beekeepers in eradication zones are allowed to set up new hives in surveillance zones.
Mr Saunders said the measures were necessary to demonstrate that the varroa mite was eradicated.
Mr Benesh is not convinced it's the right approach.
"I know how to clean them," he said.
"They'll keep making honey, they'll keep doing pollination, the 'common sense' of eradicating them is not there. Everywhere around the world it gets done this way: the bees get cleaned, they get treated and they keep producing."
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Mr Benesh has about 60 hives that fill up quickly thanks to large Eucalyptus trees nearby he doesn't want to lose. "I'm making tonnes of honey here because it's a very unique position," he said.
It leaves him in a gap between commercial operators running thousands of hives and recreational beekeepers pursuing their hobby.
Those two groups make up about 20,000 beekeepers registered with the DPI, although not all of them are in the eradication area.
The reimbursement package provides up to $550 for recreational keepers for each destroyed hive.
For commercial operators it is calculated on factors including the market value of particular hives, Queen bees and colonies destroyed, lost equipment, and an estimated farm gate value of losses from the requirement to exclude bees.
Mr Saunders said reimbursement programs were developed with the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Plant Health Australia, and the government worked closely with industry in formulating its varroa response.
Registered beekeepers in the eradication zones were invited to attend briefings in Newcastle on Tuesday and Port Stephens on Wednesday.