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Officials Fighting Crop Pest

November 5, 1985

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ An agricultural pest said to be more threatening to crops than the Mediterranean fruit fly has been found a few miles east of here, and agriculture officials are setting traps to determine if it’s an isolated case.

″We’re really hoping it’s just one fly,″ San Diego County Agriculture Commissioner Kathleen Thuner said Monday.

The Queensland fruit fly was found in the La Mesa area last Tuesday. It’s the first time the pest, which comes from Australia, has been identified in North America.

The brown and yellow housefly-sized pest is extremely difficult to eradicate because it reproduces quickly and thrives in a variety of climates, Thuner said. The fly has become a problem along the east coast of Australia and some years has destroyed 25 percent of the country’s citrus crops, Thuner said.

″This pest, based on what we know about it in Australia, is even more threatening to California than the medfly,″ she said.

An invasion of the Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly, in 1980 destroyed millions of dollars in crops and culminated in an aerial spraying campaign.

The Queensland fly maggots burrow into citrus, avocado, tomato, cucumber, apple and peach crops, among others.

Thuner said aggressive weekly spraying of insecticide is needed to eradicate the fly. She knew of only one successful eradication - a spraying program on Easter Island similar to California’s 1980 effort.

County agriculture workers put out 250 fly traps in a 25-square-mile area in La Mesa.

″If we find no more flies in the next 90 days, it looks pretty good,″ Thuner said.

Officials aren’t sure how the Queensland fly got to San Diego, but they speculate it arrived on an airplane passenger or in cargo from Australia.

If more flies are found, and if any maggots are found in fruit, Thuner said quarantines will probably be imposed on San Diego area produce and plants.