An Abbotsford beekeeper has been stung by the sophisticated theft of his stock and honey from 50 hives at a rural property this month.
The thieves removed 100 frames loaded with honey and bees but left the hive boxes behind so it wouldn't be apparent to passersby that anything was amiss, said Const. Ian MacDonald.
The theft didn't become apparent until the beekeeper attended his hives at a farm in the 27600 block of O Avenue last Thursday.
The beekeeper is estimating 8,000 pounds of honey were taken along with up to 500,000 bees. The financial losses could be as high as $100,000.
The thieves must have had a good understanding of beekeeping to manage the heist and would have needed specialized equipment and a large truck to transport the stolen goods, said MacDonald.
Commercial apiarist Mike Campbell of Campbell's Gold Honey and Meadery agreed the thieves had to have had experience in handling bees and known that the honey harvest is just around the corner.
"Obviously, it's somebody who knows something about bees because the average person wouldn't take bees out of a hive and know what to do with them."
Regardless of whether the hives belonged to a hobbyist or a small or large-scale commercial enterprise, the loss would sting, said Campbell.
"A small beekeeper would be wiped out but nobody can take a hit like that and not be effected," he said.
The theft violates the code of honour held by beekeepers, Campbell added.
"There's a protocol not to mess with anybody else's bees," he said.
"I'm sure any beekeeper found doing this would be shunned from the community."
Campbell said that in addition to harvesting the honey, the thief might illegally transport the bees to Alberta, where pollination of canola crops is getting underway.
Paul van Westendorp, provincial apiculturist for the Ministry of Agriculture, said incidental thefts of bee hives isn't unknown.
However the sophistication displayed by an operation that removes bees but leaves the hive boxes behind is new.
"It's a form of rustling. Bees are a form of livestock," said van Westendorp.
"They are increasingly valuable, not only in price, but because of the struggle it takes to keep them alive."
Beekeeping is an increasingly challenging form of animal husbandry with the rise in the number of diseases and parasites that threaten entire colonies, he said.
Mortality rates for bees have soared in recent years.
There is increasing stress on commercial growers to meet their pollination contracts, said van Westendorp.
"If you have a number of contracts you're obligated to deliver and you don't have bees, what are you going to do? There's enormous pressure to get more bees. "It's a challenge."
However, he doesn't yet see a trend of large-scale thefts in B.C. similar to what's taking place with the huge commercial operations in the United States.
A smaller theft of some colonies occurred in the Nicola Valley this spring.
Last year, somebody poached some research bees from the community garden on DeLair Road in Abbotsford but was later caught, said van Westendorp.
However, the recent incident was quite large and brazen compared to the norm, he said.
Beekeepers will have to be more vigilant in marking individual pieces of equipment and being as careful as possible around site selections, he said.
Police investigators hope someone saw some aspect of the recent theft, which would have taken time and equipment, and which occurred between July 7 and July 26.
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the APD at 604-859-5225 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.