China and South Korea import plenty of goods to the United States — some would argue too many, in fact.
No matter what your feelings on our balance of trade with Beijing and Seoul, however, there’s one thing we can all agree on: We don’t need them to export Cerambycidae or Myrmicinae, or other dangerous pests to our shores.
Cerambycids are a family of insects known as longhorn beetles or timber beetles. According to maritime news outlet gCaptain, the species in this particular case is native to China and the Korean peninsula. Customs and Border Protection officials — along with American agriculture — would prefer the bugs stayed there.
Alas, they almost made their way to U.S. shores courtesy of a Panamanian-registered ship called the M/V Pan Jasmine.
The cargo vessel had originated in India and offloaded a shipment of aluminum in Mexico before heading to New Orleans, gCaptain reported.
According to a CBP news release, officials knew something was wrong when the wood used to ship the aluminum — known as “dunnage” — was still on board when it anchored at Davant, downriver from New Orleans, on July 17.
“The dunnage used to pack the aluminum had not been offloaded in Mexico and was left scattered on the deck of the Pan Jasmine, which is unusual,” the July 28 release stated.
“No reason was provided to CBP as to why the dunnage was refused discharge in Mexico, and this raised a red flag.”
When officials examined the wood, they found “burrowing holes and fresh sawdust near the holes, which indicates pests.”
Examinations were carried out by personnel from CBP and the United States Department of Agriculture. Five invasive pests in total were found on the ship — including Cerambycidae and Myrmicinae, two insects that pose a threat to American agriculture.
“The Cerambycidae Family of Longhorned Beetles contains many non-native species that pose a serious threat to the environment,” the CBP release stated. “The larvae of invasive wood-boring beetles can feed on a wide variety of trees in the U.S., eventually killing them. The Myrmicinae queen ants are a concern because they are capable of producing a colony.”
In 1996, according to the release, Cerambycids were found in New York City and Chicago after they were brought over via wooden shipping materials. Over a two-year period, the beetles destroyed almost 7,000 trees.
Eradication campaigns against the Cerambycids between 1996 and 2013 cost over $537 million, according to estimates. In addition to the New York City and Chicago infestations, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio also saw infestations. The CBP releases notes that the USDA estimates that infestations of “Cerambycids and other Chinese wood boring beetles could cause more than $100 billion in damage to the U.S. economy.”
“If the dunnage had been offloaded into the U.S., it would have been put in a Louisiana landfill where the insects could crawl out and invade the local habitat, causing incalculable damage,” New Orleans Area Port Director Terri Edwards said in the CBP release.
“Inspecting wood dunnage of otherwise lawful shipments is one of the many, lesser known ways Office of Field Operations Agriculture Specialists help keep our country safe. I am proud of our agriculture specialists and the USDA personnel for recognizing these dangerous pests.”
Because of the amount of dunnage on the ship, authorities ordered it to immediately depart U.S. waters. It proceeded to Freeport in the Bahamas where the dunnage would be disposed of, according to the CBP release.
Yes, this is a quirky story about how CBP prevented a ship infested with a beetle that cost $537 million to eradicate when it came ashore in the United States in the 1990s. It’s also 537 million reasons why we need strong borders and border control — and not just along the Rio Grande.
Think invasive beetles are a threat? Synthetic opioids are far worse — and thanks to the chaos created by the border crisis, there was more fentanyl seized at the southern border before July than there was all of last year.
According to CBP data, 7,450 pounds of fentanyl were seized between the start of the 20-2021 fiscal year last October and this June. In all of the 2019-20 fiscal, 4,500 pounds were seized.
And then there are the record numbers of individuals being encountered by the Border Patrol at the southern border — aided in no small part by human smuggling.
Making sure that China and South Korea don’t import a Cerambycidae infestation via India is one way CBP keeps us safe.
There are plenty of others, however — and they all point to the value of a strong border.
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