A dog breed renowned for its friendliness and love of food will be used to sniff out biosecurity risks when cruise ship passengers step ashore at the Port of Tauranga later this year.
Labradors' uncanny ability to sniff food has seen the loveable breed used for the first time as detector dogs.
Five newly graduated labradors will focus on detecting biosecurity risks at the country's main international airports but the Ministry for Primary Industries said the dogs would also be used on cruise ship passengers.
And with 100 cruise ships scheduled for Tauranga's 2012-13 season, there will be plenty of risks to detect whenever an Auckland-based handler and their dog were deployed to the port. At stake was the Bay's vulnerable horticultural industry which was already reeling from the debilitating kiwifruit vine disease, Psa.
Ministry communications spokesperson Miriam Meister said each deployment to Tauranga would be based on an assessment of the risk posed by a ship and its passengers.
"A vessel that arrives in Tauranga as a first port of arrival into New Zealand represents a different risk to one that has previously been cleared at another port."
Primary Industries Minister David Carter said labradors had the advantage of being able to work with both passengers and on mail, although the ministry would continue to breed beagles.
A total of 11 labradors would have graduated from the ministry's national training centre by the end of this year, giving the ability to cover the majority of flights arriving at main airports and to cover smaller airports when needed.
At the port, they would replace the current practice of hand searching passengers disembarking for day trips. Ms Meister said the most common seizures in Tauranga related to fresh fruit. "Dogs are particularly good at detecting fruit and covering a number of passengers quickly when they just have hand baggage."
She said labradors and beagles had excellent natures and most people considered them to be non-threatening. Both breeds loved food and were very driven in their quest to find biosecurity risks because whenever they found something, their handler rewarded them with food.
Ministry for Primary Industries' dogs were trained to detect a very wide range of distinct odours associated with biosecurity risks whereas the New Zealand Customs Service was responsible for drug detection.