The discovery of a male Queensland fruit fly in Whangarei has sparked a major biosecurity alert, with up to 50 Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) staff in the city and another 50 in Wellington yesterday preparing to deal with the pest threatening New Zealand's $4 billion horticulture industry.
The fly was found in the front yard of a home near the Whangarei Town Basin on Tuesday. It was collected from an insect trap MPI had placed there as part of its national fruit fly surveillance programme involving 7400 traps around the country.
MPI staff yesterday erected signs banning people from taking whole fresh fruit and vegetables out of a 200m zone circling the place where the fruit fly was found. Bins have been provided for residents to dump fruit and vegetables rather than disposing of them with other household rubbish.
Today MPI officials will begin putting about 200 pheromone traps into fruit trees in that zone and within a 1.5km radius of the discovery site extending to parts of the city centre, along Riverside Dr and into Parihaka. An MPI mobile laboratory arrived in Whangarei yesterday for analysing fallen fruit and vegetables to be gathered from the two zones.
Queensland fruit fly is one of the most damaging fruit fly pests as it infests more than 100 species of fruit. Some countries will not import fruit and vegetables from sources where the fly is known to exist.
MPI deputy director general compliance and response Andrew Coleman said yesterday that New Zealand's trading partners had been notified of the Whangarei find and measures under way to find out if there is an infestation.
If no further evidence of fruit flies was found within a fortnight then overseas markets would accept the insect was alone, he said.
When the Northern Advocate asked whether location of the fruit fly found in Whangarei indicated the insect had arrived in one of the many overseas yachts berthed at the Town Basin, Mr Coleman said it may have done.
"But we may never know how it got here," he said, explaining that the fruit fly life cycle involved a pupa development period in the ground.
The pheromone traps containing female fruit fly sex scent are expected to detect any males. If an infestation was found, ground spraying would be carried out to eradicate the invaders.
Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy and MPI chief executive officer Martyn Dunn were in Whangarei yesterday to see the fruit fly measures being imposed and for talks with Whangarei MP Phil Heatley, Mayor Sheryl Mai and top Northland Regional Council officials.
Mr Heatley said later the minister had assured Whangarei people there would be no aerial spraying such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry carried out with the insecticide Foray 48B over parts of Auckland from January 2002 to May 2004 to eradicate another exotic pest, the painted apple moth. Kerikeri Fruitgrowers' Association chairman Rick Curtis said growers in his area were "nervous as hell".
"They are watching and hoping the male fly found was alone," he said.