FALLBROOK , They’re baaack.
The expensively pesky Mexican fruit fly has been found in Fallbrook, and state agricultural officials have shut the area down with an 80-square-mile quarantine.
The quarantine encompasses downtown Fallbrook west to Camp Pendleton and east to Interstate 15.
A quarantine at this time of the year could be a disaster for Fallbrook’s farmers. Nearly 25 percent of the county’s agricultural production comes from Fallbrook, exports worth about $300 million.
Agriculture is the county’s fourth-largest industry, after manufacturing, tourism and defense.
County officials agree that the quarantine will be a nightmare for area growers.
“It could mean the loss of their entire product,” said Kathleen Thuner, the county agricultural commissioner.
The flies were spotted last month and started alarm bells ringing for more than just their presence.
Officials are especially worried because both a male and a female fly were found, leading them to fear an all-out infestation.
Inspectors from the California Department of Food and Agriculture were in Fallbrook last week and, following federal law, ordered the quarantine and the immediate spraying of malathion.
The quarantine rules are simple.
For growers, it means no fresh fruit can be shipped unless it’s first been fumigated or cold treated. This means long delays in getting the produce to the market.
For residents, it means no fruit can be moved from where it’s growing.
Grocery stores will be responsible for shielding their fruit from flies, and fruit stand vendors have to display their wares in plastic bags or some other covered device.
Wholesalers who buy and sell fruit from the affected area must fumigate it, cold treat it or process it into juice, guacamole or other processed food.
The malathion spraying began last week, with state officials spraying in a 600-foot radius around where the two original flies were found. The spraying will last about six weeks.
No other flies have been found since, but agriculture officials are also planning to release millions of sterile fruit flies later this week into a seven-square-mile area surrounding downtown Fallbrook.
The sterile flies will continue to be released for up to several months.
The Mexican fruit fly is one of the most destructive pests known to agriculture experts, attacking more than 250 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables.
They lay their eggs in ripening fruit, thereby ruining the fruit for sale and consumption.
The fly is not native to California, and usually enters the state when travelers unknowingly bring in banned food and agriculture products from other countries or states through airports and border stations.
The flies also enter the state through seaports and parcel deliveries.
It will be about two months before officials can determine whether the quarantine can be lifted.
This is the second time this year that the Mexican fruit fly has been found in San Diego County, resulting in a quarantine.
Only six months ago, quarantines in La Jolla, El Cajon and Southeast San Diego were lifted.
The La Jolla quarantine alone lasted more than one year, and had led to a ban on imported San Diego fruit by the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan.
Ironically, county agriculture commissioner Thuner was quoted earlier this year saying that the La Jolla, El Cajon and Southeast San Diego quarantines weren’t as bad as they could have been, and expressed relief that the flies hadn’t invaded the Fallbrook area.
“If this had hit somewhere like Fallbrook, it would have been much, much worse,” she was quoted as saying.