Legal obligations of beekeepers
Registration of beekeepers
Anyone who keeps one or more hives of bees is required to register as a beekeeper with the department. Registration must be renewed every 2 years.
Construction of hives
Good beekeeping practices include regular inspections of brood and honey combs in all hives for honey bee diseases and pests. Proper inspections are impossible when hives do not have beeswax combs held within moveable frames.
The Act requires beekeepers to only keep hives that have easily and individually removable frames.
- Top bar hives may be kept, provided the combs can be individually removed from the hive for inspection without cutting or tearing.
- In cases where hives don't contain moveable frames, the Act empowers the department's apiary inspectors to order beekeepers to transfer the combs to moveable frames or destroy the bees.
The Act does not stipulate dimensions for hives and frames. However, almost all beekeepers in Victoria use the 8- or 10-frame Langstroth full-depth hive.
All hives must be marked or branded with the beekeeper's registered number (brand) that is printed on the Certificate of Registration.
Branding of hives enables the department's apiary inspectors to:
- identify the owners of hives
- notify the owners of disease, vandalism, theft and other problems.
The letter and figures of the brand may be painted, stencilled, stamped, carved or fire branded (burnt) onto the hive.
- The letter and figures must be readable at all times and must not be less than 19 mm high.
- The brand is usually placed under the handhold at both ends of the box.
While the Act does not require all hive components to be branded, most beekeepers prefer to brand everything including top bars of frames to help prevent theft.
Within 28 days of acquiring a hive, the new owner must:
- cancel the brand of the previous owner by placing a mark over the brand number on the hive
- place his or her own brand on the hive.
It is illegal for a registered beekeeper to have a hive that is not branded with their registered brand number.
Disposal of hives
The Bees Registrar must be notified in writing within 7 days when a hive is:
- disposed of
- given away.
The form is available from the selling or giving away a beehive page.
Disease and exposure of bees to infected hives and equipment
Diseases of bees are easily spread when bees gain access to:
- infected beekeeping equipment
- hive components.
The bees can carry disease-causing organisms (such as American foulbrood bacteria) back to their own hive.
The Act states that you must not expose any items in a way that enables bees to have access to them — if they are infected with disease, or have been taken from a diseased hive. Items include:
- pollen collected by bees
- hive components
- other beekeeping equipment.
This does not apply if the items have been disinfected by gamma-irradiation or hot wax dipping as directed by an apiary inspector.
Honey infected with disease must not be exposed or extracted in a way that allows bees access to it.
Bee access to honey
Even when bee disease is not present in honey, bees must not gain access to it.
It is an offence to expose:
- honey on or in honeycomb
- wax cappings
- wax scraps
- hive components
- other beekeeping equipment.
It also applies when extracting honey and rendering beeswax.
Notification of bee pests or diseases
The Act requires outbreaks or suspicion of exotic and endemic disease to be reported immediately. The presence, or suspicion of presence, of American foulbrood must be reported within 12 hours.
If you suspect an exotic pest or disease immediately phone the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline 1800. If you suspect you have an endemic notifiable pest or disease you must call 136 186 or email: email@example.com
Notifiable bee pests and diseases has further details on all notifiable pests and diseases of bees. Beekeepers can also seek advice from an apiary inspector, on 136 186 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Direction to attend hives
The Act empowers an inspector to request in writing the beekeeper's attendance and assistance with an inspection of their hives.
At least 7 days notice must be given by the inspector, unless reasonable grounds exist for believing the hives are infected with disease and the inspector notifies the beekeeper of this fact.
Clean-up of disease outbreaks
When outbreaks of American foulbrood occur, it is necessary to clean and disinfect (sterilise) infected hive components by gamma irradiation or hot wax dipping, as agreed by the beekeeper and inspector.
The inspector may order destruction of items if disinfection is not feasible.
Other beekeeping equipment may be washed or steam cleaned to remove:
Equipment items include:
- hive tools
- honey extractors
- wax reducers.
Provided these items are clean, there is no need to sterilise them.
The apiary inspector may issue a direction in writing stating the method and time by which the beekeeper must complete the clean-up procedure.
Abandoned and neglected hives
Abandoned or neglected hives may become diseased and a source of infection to other honey bee colonies (managed or feral).
If an inspector is satisfied on reasonable grounds that bees, hives or beekeeping equipment are abandoned or neglected, the inspector may seize and dispose of them in accordance with the Regulations.
If hives are branded, the inspector is required to give the beekeeper at least 7 days notice of the intention to dispose of the items. During this period, the beekeeper can claim the hives.
Hives placed on a public land apiary site — without the necessary licence or permit for that site — can also be considered abandoned.
Introduction of bees, hives, used hive equipment and bee products into Victoria
The Regulations specify restrictions on the introduction from other States and Territories of:
- queen bees
- queen cells
- package bees
- used hives
- used hive components
- used apiary equipment
- apiary (bee) products.
Honey Bee Compensation and Industry Development Fund
Beekeepers may be eligible to receive compensation if their bees or hives are destroyed or sterilised due to infection by the honey bee brood disease American foulbrood (AFB).
Compensation for loss due to AFB is not payable to:
- an unregistered beekeeper
- a beekeeper who failed to notify the presence of field signs of AFB in their hives to a department inspector
Compensation is paid from the Honey Bee Compensation and Industry Development Fund. The fund is financed by beekeeper registration fees.
Apicultural Industry Advisory Committee
This committee has 6 members appointed by the Minister for Agriculture for 3 year terms.
The Victorian Apiarists' Association Inc. nominate 3 members, 1 member is nominated by the Victorian Farmers Federation and 2 members are nominated by the Secretary of the department.
The Committee advises the Minister for Agriculture about:
- bee diseases for which compensation should be payable
- compensation payable to apiarists
- amount of registration fees
- any other matter referred to the Committee by the Minister.
Find out about the Honey Bee Compensation and Industry Development Fund.
Recent updates to the Regulations
In support of the Australian honey bee industry and achieve national consistency, Agriculture Victoria undertook consultation in February and March 2019, regarding formally adopting the requirements of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice (the 'Code') into Victoria’s apiary legislation.
Feedback received from stakeholders indicated they broadly supported adopting the requirements of the Code.
The new Livestock Disease Control Regulations 2017 incorporating the Code came into effect on 12 June 2019.
The new Regulations cover activities that all beekeepers should already be undertaking to minimise the impact of pests and diseases on their own hives and those of their fellow beekeepers.
The most significant changes proposed for all beekeepers are a requirement to:
- check hives for pests and diseases
- improve record keeping of biosecurity related actions and observations
- control pests and diseases
- manage weak hives
- protect hives from neglect or exposure.
Some of the new requirements apply to all beekeepers while others apply only to beekeepers with 50 or more hives because of the increased biosecurity risks.
Commercial beekeepers with more than 50 hives also need to:
- demonstrate adequate knowledge to identify and manage bee pests and diseases
- undergo annual honey testing for American foulbrood disease
- provide a declaration that they operate and manage their bee hives in compliance with the Code.
There are consequences for failing to comply with all apiary legislation in Victoria which may include being issued with an infringement notice or court action for more serious or repeat offences.
Apiary Code of Practice
In addition to the requirements of the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 and Regulations, all Victorian beekeepers are required to comply with the Apiary Code of Practice 2016.