More than 6,000 pounds of fruit have been bagged and destroyed in an effort to contain the state's largest outbreak of an aggressive Asian fruit fly, Florida agriculture officials said Wednesday.
Officials are still trying to pin down a source for the Oriental fruit fly that triggered an 85-square mile quarantine on farmland in Miami-Dade County’s Redland area, the center of a $2.5 billion agricultural industry. But they say the large number of flies —116 so far —suggests the outbreak started with a shipment of infested fruit and not a traveler bringing home a small amount.
On Tuesday, another fly was found in a neighborhood southeast of Miami International Airport, more than 20 miles away. It’s not clear whether the fly is part of the outbreak, but it does highlight the need to quickly find the source, said state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
“We’re not interested in kicking in doors, but we are interested in finding the source so we can see how much it spread,” Putnam said after a news conference highlighting state efforts to fight invasive species.
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A fly first turned up in a trap in Kendall in mid-August. Within two weeks, dozens more flies were caught in the Redland, suggesting a serious outbreak. Since 1999, flies have turned up periodically in more than 56,000 traps around the state, but numbering no more than a dozen or so.
The fly poses a significant risk to the county’s $700 million in crop sales because it will infest almost everything grown in the region, a far bigger menu than the Caribbean and papaya fruit flies now in the state.
As of Wednesday, about 6,125 pounds of fruit had been bagged and destroyed in an effort to contain the flies, said Department of Agriculture spokesman Mark Fagan. Growers have been asked not to move fruit until they consult with officials and set up monitoring protocols to prevent any spread. So far, 121 growers have signed such agreements, he said.
State workers are also setting up additional traps. While more effective traps that target male flies are usually deployed, females traps are also being set out to try to prevent a breeding population from becoming established, said Bryan Benson, an incident commander for the state. By Wednesday, only one female had been found and seven larvae in mangoes on a single property, he said.
In a state fighting invasive species on multiple fronts — from pythons, to Asian beetles to giant African land snails — Putnam said the outbreak shows the need for stepped up efforts to battle exotic pests, including increased inspections and better technology to monitor cargo.
Florida, he said, is “bearing an enormous burden of these outbreaks” that should be shared with the federal government.
“Trade is good for the world and good for Florida,” he said, “but we all know a consequence is more pests.”