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Tasmania’s Stories

State battles fruit fly threat

Edition 192_Map

Tasmania’s biosecurity status, described as globally unique, faced its gravest challenge in decades after an incursion by Queensland fruit fly.

Outbreaks on Flinders Island and along a swath of the main island's Bass Strait coastline threatened the State's certification as fruit-fly free, which enables fresh produce to be exported without fumigation.

The Minister for Primary Industries, Jeremy Rockliff, said: “I believe this incursion needs to be managed in a similar way to a natural disaster.”

The problem first emerged on Flinders Island in January when fruit fly larvae were found in apricots from trees on a private property at Trousers Point.

While biosecurity officers were at the site considering treatment options and taking steps to determine the source, more larvae were found 20km away at Lady Barron.

Although Flinders Island is not a fruit exporter, a control zone was established so that the movement of fruit and vegetables could be restricted and monitored.

Two weeks later, a second exclusion zone had to be defined after fruit fly larvae were detected at Spreyton, again on non-commercial apricot trees.

This was a more complex situation, with a Greater Devonport Control Zone taking in many commercial fruit and vegetable production sites and affecting several exporters.

The zone initially covered all of Devonport, Sheffield, Turners Beach and areas in between, with Ulverstone sitting just outside.

It had to be expanded twice in February, firstly along its eastern margin as fruit fly were detected close to its boundary; then on a more drastic scale as an infestation was confirmed at George Town, more than 100km to the east.

Fruit fly became a potentially state-wide issue on 21 February when a nectarine shipped in from Victoria and certified by an accredited facility there as "fruit fly-free" was found to be infested with larvae.

The discovery by Biosecurity Tasmania during a routine check in a Devonport supermarket prompted a recall from retail shelves across the State of all produce that had passed through the Victorian facility.

Mr Rockliff described the apparent failure of Victorian authorities to catch the infected produce before it arrived in Tasmania as "frustrating".

He said: "We will get to the bottom of exactly where the failure occurred in the fruit fly certification process."

Authorities said the recall did not involve tonnes of fruit, but Tasmanians were urged to check any recent purchases and to double wrap any suspect waste in plastic before disposing of it.

Potential hosts for fruit fly include apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, capsicums, cherries, figs, grapefruit, mulberries, nashis, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes.

One medium-sized retailer sent back 12 pallets of fruit valued at $60,000 to Victoria.

The General Manager of Biosecurity Tasmania, Dr Lloyd Klumpp, said: "We are undertaking further investigations with interstate authorities, including any relationship between this Victorian treatment facility and other Tasmanian detections of fruit fly this summer."

Mr Rockliff said: "It now appears that there may have been a failure in the fruit fly-free certification process on the mainland, rather than an issue with processes in Tasmania.”

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) urged the Government, to focus on the task at hand — the eradication of fruit fly — and not be distracted by the apportioning of blame.

“Fruit fly infected fruit from Victoria has been located, but this does not mean that it is the origin of the Tasmanian incursions or the only origin,” TFGA head Peter Skillern said.

“Either way, this issue points to the critical need for Tasmania to invest heavily in our own biosecurity, a position that the TFGA has been advocating strongly for a number of years."

The Government, which was in caretaker mode at the time, promised Biosecurity Tasmania "a blank cheque" to respond to the issue as it needed to.

In the midst of an election campaign, the Premier, Will Hodgman, and the Leader of the Opposition, Rebecca White, agreed that quick eradication of the pest was vital to Tasmania’s reputation.

Mr Hodgman said: “We need to make sure that the on-going effort to protect Tasmania’s strong brand … and ensure that we can reinstate Tasmania’s status is receiving critical priority."

Ms White said: “It is that big challenge we need to tackle to preserve the brand integrity that Tasmania has. [The brand] provides a value for all Tasmanian products leaving this State.”

The Executive Director of Brand Tasmania, Robert Heazlewood, said: "This issue is not only vitally important for Tasmania's agriculture sector, which has been growing quickly on the back of massive investment driven by irrigation.

"A lot of that investment has gone into horticulture, so a lot of enterprising people could be hurt if we don't get on top of this.

"That's one side of this situation, the other is that this State's biosecurity status is one of the foundations of our brand.

"One European fruit grower described this advantage of ours as 'unique in the world'."

The Mercury editorialised: "Brand Tasmania is the biggest selling point we have. Protecting it is vital to our future prosperity. Our brand is clean, green, friendly — and, in agriculture, basically disease-free...

"Ensuring fruit fly does not have any chance to get a foothold in our State is critical to the future of a very important industry.

"But it’s also critical to the future of Tasmania, in that being fruit-fly-free is just one of the boasts we can make to support the important Brand Tasmania message — the message that, in an increasingly populated world, will sustain our [islands] into the future."

After years of negotiations with Asian trade authorities, Tasmanian fruit and vegetable producers have been able to claim premiums in many markets for their fumigation-free products.

They have access to consumers in Japan, South Korea, the United States and China that are out of reach for other Australian growers.

Taiwanese authorities were the first importers to react to news of the outbreak, announcing that they would not accept produce from either of the exclusion zones.

Braddon Labor MP, Justine Keay, told Federal Parliament that a cherry grower within the original Spreyton control zone had lost market access to China and was being forced to sell fruit into Hong Kong at half price.

On the biosecurity front lines, an all-out effort was underway.

An intense baiting and trapping program was launched inside the control zones with 80 staff working over the last weekend of February.

Biosecurity Tasmania routinely deploys about 100 fruit fly traps at random locations around the State and inspects them weekly to ensure the integrity of the fruit fly-free claim.

This program was quickly expanded to 1,000 traps.

Previously, the traps have rarely delivered anything untoward and it is generally accepted that an occasional fruit fly invader would not survive Tasmania's winter.

However, even a temporary summer incursion of the pest, which is common across continental Australia, is clearly disruptive to the $50 million-a-year fruit-export business.

The impact of the incursion widened with the second expansion of the Spreyton control zone to span the mouth of the Tamar River and include more than 30 vineyards, along with many other horticultural businesses.

Wine Industry Tasmania's Sheralee Davies said: "We are working very closely with the impacted businesses so that they understand the implications and we do everything we can to make sure that we're not spreading fruit fly any further."

Ms Davies said she was in constant communication with producers and felt confident they would be able to proceed with harvesting.

She said a protocols agreement brokered with Biosecurity Tasmania meant grapes could still be transported through and from the control zone under agreed conditions.

Wine grapes, like other fruit, must either have been cold sterilised for several days or fumigated before leaving the control zone.

As some Tasmanian apple producers began harvesting in late February, they were able to negotiate a protocol for the use of Taut Liners (curtain-sided trailers) to transport their fruit through the control zone.

Before the control zone expansion, Mr Rockliff told a media conference: "We are going to destroy these little buggers".

He announced a $2 million rescue package for fruit and vegetable producers caught up in the original control zone.

Available to affected growers, distributors and retailers, the package includes:

  • Financial assistance for those in the control zone suffering financial hardship resulting from the implementation of fruit fly prevention measures;
  • Assistance with costs required with meeting fruit-treatment requirements;
  • Industry assistance to source new interstate markets for producers within the control zone;
  • Assistance package to help with changes that may be required for packaging; and
  • Assistance with fruit clean-up and disposal.

Things didn't always go to plan as Biosecurity Tasmania intensified trapping and other eradication measures.

Between 30kg and 40kg of apricots, allegedly from within the Spreyton control area, were seized by officials at the Wynyard Foreshore Market.

Then the Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment (DPIWE) was forced to suspend fumigation it had just started at Devonport Airport when four staff reported ill after working with methyl bromide.

DPIWE reported the incident to WorkSafe Tasmania and initiated its own investigation.

One of the workers involved reported to Mersey Hospital and was kept in overnight for observation.

Meanwhile, a DPIWE spokesperson praised the “fantastic vigilance from the community”.

People are required by law to report any signs of fruit fly on their properties.

Many of the scores of reported sightings turned out to be harmless vinegar flies which are common in Tasmania.

Aside from fruit fly, many other agricultural pests and diseases are normally absent from the State.

These include spotted-wing drosophila, potato cyst nematode, fire blight, tobacco blue mould, mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, rabies and rinderpest, the varroa mite that attacks beehives, and spinning disease that infects salmonids.

Freedom from these threats enables farmers to operate with relatively low levels of chemical input and their products seldom require fumigation before export.

The Primary Industry Biosecurity Action Alliance was formed in 2016 to campaign against Australian legislation that threatened to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to national biosecurity and did not properly address Tasmania’s special needs.

The alliance’s campaign was ultimately successful.

As it said in a 2016 statement: "Tasmania’s freedom from catastrophic pests and diseases is not ours to trade away. Biosecurity is inter-generational."

Image courtesy of Biosecurity Tasmania

8 March 2018, Edition 192

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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