MPI ups yacht biosecurity ante

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Yachts arriving in Northland from overseas this season will face greater biosecurity scrutiny, says the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The move follows two Queensland fruit fly detections in Whangarei earlier this year. This pest has the potential to devastate New Zealand’s horticulture industry.

MPI North Ports Manager Sharon Tohovaka says there is limited evidence to suggest the flies arrived in New Zealand on yachts, but is keen “to ensure that the gate is closed on this pathway”.

She says eight extra quarantine inspectors will be working in Northland during the arrival season from October to mid-December when the bulk of yachts sheltering in the Pacific islands for the winter decide to haul anchor for New Zealand and Australia.

The inspectors will be working as “rummaging teams,” says Tohovaka.

“They will carry out a greater number of intensive inspections, adding another layer of assurance to the existing biosecurity process.

“As many yachts as possible will be subject to intensive inspection, enhancing  MPI’s profiling and intelligence-gathering.”

The human inspectors may be joined by biosecurity detector dogs. MPI is currently trialling the use of detector dogs for yacht clearances with the aim of getting dogs up to Opua and Marsden Point for the arrival season.

In addition to the rummaging teams, MPI is working with the navy and air force to increase surveillance of yachts approaching New Zealand’s coastline.
For the first time since 2010, inshore patrol vessels will include MPI border clearance staff among the crews.

“Knowing what yachts are approaching our waters is a key component of our biosecurity defence. We will be actively preventing any yachts that may try to stop on the coast before reaching their official first port of arrival where they undergo biosecurity checks,” says Tohovaka.

“We need to stay vigilant. Although this practice is rare, it opens the door for dangerous pests to jump ship.”

There will also be increased surveillance from the Northland community.  MPI has been working with Northland iwi to bring more people into the Coast Watch programme, which encourages local people to report unusual events on the coast such as vessels anchoring without informing authorities.

To spread the biosecurity word, MPI will send quarantine inspectors this season to the two main yacht gathering points in the South Pacific – Musket Cove in Fiji and Vava'u in Tonga.

“It’s from these regattas that most yachts leave for New Zealand,” says Tohovaka.

“In the past yachties have had a lot of questions about our biosecurity procedures, what documents they need to provide, what sort of stores they can take onboard.”

“It makes sense to us to have experienced biosecurity staff on the ground to provide information and help raise the level of biosecurity awareness.”

On the whole, the yachting community is very good at following New Zealand’s biosecurity requirements, says Tohovaka.

“It may be that the new initiatives simply end up proving this point.” 

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