It's estimated up to $300,000 worth of beehives have been stolen in the Western Bay recently - with police saying there has been a spike in thefts targeting the industry.
Police recovered 300 hives in a search on Monday. Identification numbers had been removed from about 80 per cent of the hives, or they had been disguised or repainted.
Several firearms and a large amount of ammunition were also located, including a semi-auto shotgun, a 7mm-08 rifle and two semi-automatic .22s.
The owner of one of the companies affected by the thefts, who did not want to be named, said losing hives had been a major blow.
The company owned 73 of the live beehives stolen out of a total 300 recovered from a Whakamarama address. Forty of the hives were recovered by police.
The owner said the hives were stolen in May and August.
"We are very lucky because without that we would not have found them.
"If us good beekeepers look out for each other and for any products or anything unusual, we have a lot more strength."
Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner said the remainder of the hives found were either dead or "assorted remains" and police allege they were connected to burglaries of live hives across the Western Bay.
Mr Turner said police had noticed an increasing number of beehive thefts in the area and had so far identified hives stolen in three burglaries.
Police were seeking one person in relation to the thefts although more offenders may yet be identified. No arrests had been made.
Apiculture NZ BOP president and beekeeper Dennis Crowley said the impact of the thefts was huge.
"Beekeepers do not count bees; they count hives," he said.
"If the hives were stolen from one person that is a huge chunk of hives to replace."
Mr Crowley said each live hive cost between $750 and $1000, which equated to as much as $300,000 worth of hives stolen from Western Bay.
But a hive with no bees would still be worth the material used to build a beehive, valued at a couple of hundred dollars, he said.
He said the impact of the loss depended on whether the beekeeper had contracts for kiwifruit pollination work, which they could not do without their hives, and if they had borrowed money to fund the bees.
It was not only a loss of income and asset, but it was also a loss of time.
"People forget that honey production is only for a few months," he said. "We are not making money all year round."
Mr Crowley had about 500 hives and said the recent thefts had made him wary. Apiculture NZ BOP was working with police to help beekeepers monitor their hives, including GPS tracking systems.
Wendy Mossop of Mossop's Honey said it was a huge loss of production for a beekeeper as they prepared for the season.
"It is devastating because they have looked after the bees all winter," she said. "It is like having your cows stolen."
Mrs Mossop said the 70-year-old Tauranga business had about $50,000 worth of hives and honey stolen from them last year. She did not understand why thieves would target hives at this time of year when they had no honey.
"It does not make sense."
Community policing co-ordinator Senior Sergeant Alasdair Macmillan said the rising number of beehives reported stolen nationwide was costing apiarists millions of dollars each year.
He said 408 incidents nationally involving bees or honey were reported to police from July 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017.
It was common for thieves to shift hives in utes or trailers in rural areas and residents should report any suspicious-looking vehicles carrying beehives to police.
Any information can be provided to 07 577 4300 or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Preventative measures beekeepers can take:
- Keep beehives out of sight from potential thieves. This could mean within a locked fenced-off area or hidden behind property.
- Use motion sensor lights and security cameras where possible.
- Keep serial numbers or another identification number engraved on your hives so they can be easily identified if stolen.