MPI must not miss the boats
“Having been king-hit by tomato potato psyllid and with Psa looming over the back fence, I am quickly reaching the end of MY risk-pathway!”
Guest writer Craig Watson Chairman, NZ Tamarillo Growers Association Another day, another fruit fly find in Whangarei and more stress for growers. As a long time Whangarei resident and grower, I am shocked that this can be happening in my backyard, the second time in three months. The implications of a multiple-fly find and a larger 25 km controlled zone would be especially bad for local growers. No fruit movement means no domestic or international market until movement is allowed. I know we have a fantastic local growers' market, but I don't fancy trying to sell 80 tonnes of tamarillos there. My stress is compounded by some mixed messages coming from the media. On the seventh of April my children read me the headline of the Northern Advocate – “Fresh fruit fly found”. My heart dropped – I will be in a controlled zone any minute and my harvest will be over. But there is no followup find, just a story running four days late. For the next two weeks this scenario is repeated many times as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) radio broadcasts announce: “A male Queensland fruit fly has been found in the Parihaka area.” The advertisements continue unabated to educate and encourage compliance of the Whangarei residents. The messages seem to work; the containment areas work well and fruit fly is the talk of the town. I decide to stop reading the paper and ignore the radio. So what are the locals saying? Mostly they are surprised, questioning, and there is a fair bit of finger pointing going on as well. Why is it that three out of five Queensland fruit fly detections in New Zealand have been found in a leafy suburb of Whangarei? Soon after the April 1 trapping I am frustrated that I am hearing the same rhetoric from MPI around this new discovery. I have no gripe with the trapping and containment actions.They have been rapid and thorough. But statements around reviewing importation requirements of high-risk goods again are frustrating. We all agree that we need to ensure these pests don't get through the border in the first place. But why is MPI so focused on reviewing commercial pathways? The first step in any such analysis is to look for the linkages. There are no direct commercial fruit imports into Port Whangarei. There is no international airport here. There are two supermarkets close to this zone but the amount of high-risk fruit sold there is minimal. If this was the problem pathway, wouldn't we see incursions happening around the container ports, international airports and centralised distribution points? A retail fruit pathway risk would be the same throughout a large part of New Zealand during the summer months. To me, two detections in one suburb in one summer doesn't add up.
What is special about the suburb of Parihaka is that there is a very popular marina at the bottom of the hill, where international boaties gather after spending the spring/ summer season in the Pacific Islands and Australia. Some will call at the port of Opua first, but for many Whangarei will be the first port of call in New Zealand. To the south is a commercial marine area servicing tuna boats, super yachts and the like. To the locals, this is an obvious risk pathway as D. tryoni has been found in many Pacific Islands over the years. (New Caledonia, Society Islands (including Tahiti) Easter Island, Austral Islands, Pitcairn Island and Torres Straight Island) and of course the Whitsunday Islands off Queensland coast which is also popular with boaties. Local growers have spoken with many yachties about the January incursion. We assumed that MPI would have been all over the marina like a rash, but that is not what we hear. I am encouraged to have seen MPI officers on the docks in the marina soon after the latest find. I also see others patrolling on the Hihiaua Peninsula and Pohe Island. I hope they are thinking “what is it about this place, why has this happened here twice this summer?” So now that the incursion has ended, what happens now? What can be learnt? I think MPI can be confident that the monitor trapping works as a detection tool and that its responses have been thorough. It has taken this seriously and we appreciate it. But large questions remain around the source of the flies and I urge MPI to explore all potential pathways as a risk. As a grower I can only hope for the best and for me that is simple – no more incursions! Having been king-hit by tomato potato psyllid and with Psa looming over the back fence, I am quickly reaching the end of MY risk-pathway! That's my five cents worth. I hope it stimulates some new thinking.