New Zealand is collecting tens of thousands of dollars in fines from overseas tourists carrying apples into Queenstown Airport.
Figures provided to the Otago Daily Times this week by the Ministry for Primary Industries show apples were responsible for 168 infringement notices being issued last year.
Each infringement carries a fine of $400 – meaning apples were responsible for fines totalling $67,200.
Chief quarantine officer at the airport Lee Thornton says yesterday the convenience of apples as a food to travel with was part of the reason.
“Sometimes, the airlines actually give them out in lunch packs and what have you, which we discourage.”
The most common reason for carrying produce into Queenstown was: “I just forgot it was in my bag”, Thornton says.
However, sometimes people who say they had forgotten “knew full well”, she says.
“And a lot of times it’s families, and they’re stressed.
“They’re getting kids and bags and what have you to the airport, and they throw fruit in because it’s nutritional, and forget it’s in there.”
Produce apart from apples that led to infringement notices being issued included honey (69) and bananas (51).
Sydney psychology student Daniel Novikov, 25, saus he packed a banana to eat on the plane on his way to Queenstown for a snowboarding holiday last week.
He did not eat the banana and “totally forgot” about it when he signed a declaration form on the plane saying he was not carrying produce.
Then, as his bag was going through the X-ray machine, it was clearly visible and he was issued with an infringement notice.
A Sydney companion on the same flight was fined $400 for carrying a lemon, he says.
He did not object to paying a fine, but believed that $400 was excessive and arbitrary, and the same lesson would have been learned with a $100 fine, Novikov says.
Australians are by far the biggest group of overseas visitors flying into Queenstown, and they also top the infringement statistics.
In the year to the end of April, 134,672 Australians arrived, and in the year to the end of June 165 Australians were issued with infringement notices.
Thornton says infringements by visitors from the United States and China were also high, at 89 and 54 respectively.
It was important to point out visitors did have opportunities to dispose of produce at the airport before undergoing biosecurity checks, she says.
The total number of infringement notices issued for the year was 551 and the value $220,400.
Some of the more unusual items involved were potatoes (one), walnuts (two), abalone (one), conifer cones (one) and shells (one).
– Otago Daily Times