Helton hails Hawaii Island bill as direction for Oahu beekeeping

The future of beekeeping in Hawaii appears to be heading in two very different directions, depending on the island. 

Speaking this past Sunday with radio host Johnny Miro of the H. Hawaii Media network, Grassroot Institute policy researcher Jonathan Helton discussed the contrasting beekeeping-related zoning bills before the county councils on Hawaii Island and Oahu. 

Helton highlighted Hawaii’s significant role in the export of queen bees, noting that Hawaii County alone supplies one-third of queen bees to the mainland and over 75% to Canada — contributing over $20 million to the local economy annually. 

Helton suggested that these figures could increase further if the Hawaii County Council passes Bill 144, which aims to remove certain zoning regulations that limit beekeeping to agricultural land and impose setback requirements for beehives.

“Put simply, it really deregulates beekeeping,” explained Helton. “You’re expanding where people can keep one or two hives, or if they want to go big and start breeding queens and producing honey to sell commercially, they can do that under this bill.” 

The Honolulu City Council, on the other hand, is deliberating zoning updates that would hinder urban and suburban beekeeping by prohibiting it on lots smaller than 5,000 square feet and reducing the number of allowable hives on those on larger properties. 

“I think as a state, we want to support more of our local hobbyist and commercial beekeepers and our farmers,” said Helton. “And that’s kind of the opposite direction of where we want to go.” 

Helton said he likes the approach of Bill 144, stating that it will benefit both the local beekeeping industry and the global agricultural sector, which relies on imported bees for crop pollination. 

“There’s been a lot of talk about promoting local agriculture and … sometimes the state will put some money toward helping farmers with grants or with research. And we think, OK, that’s important,” said Helton. 

“But one really important thing that state and county lawmakers can do is they can also try to identify regulatory barriers to local agriculture. And I think that the beekeepers on Big Island, they’ve really found one right here,” he said. 

To hear the entire 20-minute conversation, click on the video below. 



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