It's been a busy summer so far for biosecurity officers protecting New Zealand's borders from unwanted pests and diseases.
Biosecurity officers screened over half a million arriving passengers in December, says Mike Inglis, northern regional commissioner of Biosecurity New Zealand.
With borders reopening, the increase in passenger traffic has been matched with a rise in infringement notices for travelers who fail to declare items that pose a biosecurity risk, including food, plant products, and used equipment.
Officers issued 511 infringement notices in December, compared with 467 issued in November.
"The $400 fine provides a wakeup call for travelers who unintentionally expose New Zealand to biosecurity risk. Those who deliberately smuggle biosecurity goods face prosecution and potentially much stiffer penalties, including imprisonment."
Fresh produce was the most commonly seized undeclared item in December (420). Used equipment, such as hiking boots and camping gear, was the next highest (83), followed by meat products (58).
"These items could contain animal or plant diseases, or destructive hitchhiker pests such as fruit fly or brown marmorated stink bug."
Some of the more unusual airport seizures included an onion that was sprouting in a passenger's handbag and a dead rat detected in a boot inside baggage.
Mr. Inglis says officers have been working across all entry pathways into New Zealand over the holiday period.
"International travel has ramped up. But we've also processed huge amounts of international mail and parcels. And the return of international cruise ships has contributed to the workload. Our staff have done a brilliant job in very challenging times.
"We are continuing to manage an increase in mishandled baggage that arrives separately from passengers. We have been working with Auckland Airport, ground handlers, and airlines to address the issue and have rostered more staff to do biosecurity screening of those unaccompanied bags, and we are successfully clearing that baggage.
"We have also been working closely with the cruise industry to ensure passenger vessels arrive in New Zealand with clean hulls. It's important to balance the needs of visitors to New Zealand with the need to protect our special marine environment.
"We know that biofouling on the underside of vessels is responsible for the introduction of nearly 90% of marine pests. Because those pests can really impact our environment, unique marine ecosystems, the aquaculture industry, and economy, vessels that do not meet our biofouling rules may face itinerary restrictions or other compliance action."
"Our job is to protect New Zealand, and I want to thank all of our staff for their continued commitment and professionalism."