WA Bee Biosecurity Officer update

This update from the WA Bee Biosecurity Officer James Sheehan gives an overview of his main activities from August 2019 to June 2020.


WA Bee Biosecurity Officer James Sheehan

National Bee Biosecurity Program

In WA, like in many other states, the Bee Biosecurity Officer (BBO) role is split between multiple programs. Half my time is focused on delivering the National Bee Biosecurity Program (NBBP) and engaging WA beekeepers on the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice (the Code).

I regularly say that WA is fortunate to be in the relatively clean biosecurity position, but it is a position that requires practised vigilance through regular surveillance and the adoption of good biosecurity practices. With regular communication with other BBOs from around the nation, I am consistently reminded of the immense value of the NBBP and other programs which protect WA’s bees.

COVID-19 impacts

COVID-19 and its associated restrictions put the brakes on my planned engagement opportunities. April is normally one of my busiest months with the general end of the WA honey season, the Bee Industry Council of Western Australia Limited conference, the honey festival, and other local agricultural shows. The cancellation of these meant I redirected my focus to online delivery and spent more time undertaking one-on-one activities.

Travel for the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program

Whilst working as a BBO I have also assisted the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP).  This has provided me a great opportunity to travel the length and breadth of WA, allowing me to meet beekeepers and equipment suppliers and open some great biosecurity dialogue. For example, a timely winter trip to Broome delivering the NPBSP overlapped with melon pollination. On this trip I also met one of our few commercial beekeepers in the small hive beetle quarantine area in the states north.  It was a great opportunity to build professional relationships in the north, inspect a few hives and talk regional export requirements. Every beekeeper connection is an important one and key to building broad networks that encourage early reporting and open discussion.

Pollination inspections

Almonds and avocado hive pollination started my season with brood inspections, external mite surveillance and honey sampling high on the agenda. Without legislative backing for the Code in WA I use other tools to introduce and discuss its requirements. These inspections allow me to demonstrate and impress the need for alcohol washes, drone uncapping and AFB honey culture testing. There are many amazing beekeepers with great biosecurity practice here in WA, but some wait to see a problem rather than implementing activities to monitor or mitigate risk. Pre-identifying beekeepers can be challenging as pollination events in WA are generally fragmented with many small growers and no pollination brokers. I am now again busily identifying new orchards and beekeepers to approach for this year’s engagement and inspections.

American foulbrood seminar

One of my highlights from the last year was facilitating an American foulbrood (AFB) seminar for semi-commercial beekeepers. This event brought together a local bee equipment supplier and industry and university expert speakers Robert Manning and Jessica Moran. It was a great platform to talk about the practical application of a barrier system and their potential value, and the need for greater levels of AFB reporting and honey culture testing.

Honey culture testing

Results from honey culture testing (HCT) for AFB remain a highly effective tool for identifying and then engaging with commercial beekeepers with or at risk of having clinical AFB. They have initiated many discussions around sterilisation, spore mitigation, hygiene, barrier management, storage, and disposal.  The principles within the Code are essential when it comes to AFB risk mitigation in a state where antibiotic is not in use and where sterilisation by irritation is costly to achieve. It is great to see industry rates of proactive HCT are on the rise in WA.


Over this time I wrote three articles linking the Code to topical and seasonal interests: ‘Eyes in the Apiary – April is the Month for External Mite Surveillance’; ‘Are you starving your bees?’; and ‘Buying a nuc’. All were featured in local beekeeping magazines.

Enquiries and pest reports

BBO work is just as much driven by planned activities as it is by the next phone call or email. I receive no shortage of bee-related enquires and reports. On more than one occasion I received photos and samples of workers or drones with damaged to or deformed wings. Fortunately, all were identified to be environmentally caused or tested negative for deformed wing virus.

Packaged bee and queen export inspections

Undertaking packaged bee and queen export inspections also gave me the opportunity to spend time with some great commercial beekeepers, inspect numerous hives, and gain an appreciation for the value other states and countries place on our clean bees.