environment

Australia saves NZ from billion-dollar stink bug invasion

A ship bound for New Zealand has been stopped in Australia after it was found to be carrying stink bugs. 

Brown marmorated stink bugs represent a critical threat to New Zealand’s horticultural industry. An NZIER report published this February estimate a stink bug incursion would wipe up to $3.6 billion from New Zealand’s GDP by 2038. Alan Pollard, chair of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Council told Newsroom horticulture would be devastated.

The ship, the Armacup Triumph, was intercepted in Australia and has been sent offshore. A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources told Newsroom the Triumph had been ordered to anchor at sea until it approved a treatment plan.

It was due to dock in Auckland on November 5, but is now at anchor off the coast of Queensland.

Stink bugs are considered such a serious threat to New Zealand, the Government has given approval to introduce a species of wasp to control the stink bug population in the event of an outbreak here.

Troubled importer involved 

The Triumph was carrying mainly vehicles, including both new and used cars from China, Japan and Korea. The cars should have been heat treated before leaving Japan to kill any stink bugs. 

At least some of the vehicles on the ship were exported by Nichibo, the Japanese company facing allegations of misleading NZTA and the Companies Office after merging together a vehicle importer and certifier as reported by Newsroom.

JEVIC New Zealand chief executive Euan Philpot told Newsroom it followed MPI requirements to heat treat cargo travelling from Japan to New Zealand.

Philpot said he had been advised by Armacup that a process of elimination had found the stink bugs must have come from cargo exported from China or Korea.

But a representative from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said it was impossible to tell where the bugs had come from. 

The summer of stinkbug 

Native to South East Asia where populations are kept in check by natural predators, stink bugs have since spread throughout much of the world. 

Invasions in Italy and the United States have caused massive biosecurity responses. A recent report in the New Yorker described hellish scenes involving thousands of stink bugs invading suburban homes. One researcher killed 26,205 bugs in their home in just six months. 

The bug’s main way of getting to New Zealand is by hiding in the lining of used vehicles. 

Biosecurity New Zealand has been getting tough. A spokesperson said it was gearing up for the “risk season” which runs from September to April, when stink bugs from the northern hemisphere are most likely to crawl into New Zealand-bound cargo. 

MPI turned away four ships from New Zealand last season and intercepted more than 2500 stinkbugs. 

'The most invasive pests facing horticulture today'

A stink bug incursion into New Zealand would devastate the horticultural industry.

Pollard told Newsroom stink bugs were “the most invasive pests facing horticulture today”.

“If you look at what happened in America when it arrived in the 1990s, some of the cropping states on the East Coast of America lost 90 percent of their production,” he said. 

But the threat doesn’t only come from declining production. An incursion would require a massive pesticide response that could make it impossible for New Zealand fruit growers to export their produce to some of our most lucrative trading partners. 

“In America went from spraying really harsh pesticides twice a year to twice a week, and even doing that they still lost 30 percent of their production,” he said.

Kiwifruit Vine Health chair Stu Hutchings agreed.

He told Newsroom that Italian fruit growers had lost up to 30 percent of their crops after falling victim to stink bugs. 

For New Zealand growers, this would mean being unable to export to Europe and some Asian markets that do not allow imported fruit that had been intensively sprayed with certain pesticides. 

For this reason, New Zealand’s likely response to an outbreak of stink bug will be to introduce the samurai wasp into areas where stink bugs are. 

The wasp bores into stink bug eggs, killing them. 

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