Olive fruit fly larvae were found on fresh olives that a passenger from Lebanon was trying to carry into San Diego International Airport, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday.
Agriculture specialists working at the airport on Oct. 4 found several olive fruit fly larvae on almost nine pounds of fresh olives that were packed inside the passenger's baggage. Travelers are prohibited from bringing olives from Lebanon into the United States.
Dawn Nielsen, deputy agricultural commissioner in San Diego County, said that the olive fly has already infested most of the state —- particularly the Central California region, where a commercially viable industry remains.
San Diego County first saw olive fruit flies in the late 1990s. "We found one or two in 1999, and by the end of the year we found hundreds in our traps," Nielsen said.
She said the olive industry once was vibrant more than half a century ago, but has since become a "hobbyist" crop for some growers interested in making olive oil.
"In San Diego County, this pest is already here, but the commercial crop is limited," Nielsen said. "Had this been a pest that we didn't have, and nobody had caught it, it could have been devastating."
Olive fruit flies feed exclusively on olives, and are a serious pest of cultivated olives in most countries around the Mediterranean Sea. According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Pest Notes, the flies were first detected in California in 1998 and are now found in all olive-growing areas of the state.
The larvae of the olive fruit fly feed inside the fruit, destroying the pulp and rendering the fruit susceptible to secondary bacterial and fungal infections that rot the fruit.