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Hawaii News

Slug discovery slows distribution of trees

Dan Nakaso
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Christmas trees from Oregon and Washington carried a few lively passengers, including a salamander and a couple of tree frogs that were found by customers who bought trees and took them home. Department of Agriculture inspectors at the Matson Navigation Co. shipyard on Sand Island found a greater problem yesterday: slugs that stowed away on trees in 11 containers. The find will delay the delivery of 2,000 to 8,000 trees to retailers.
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Slugs found in one of the containers.
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Department of Agriculture plant and quarantine inspector Glenn Sakamoto, left, and technician Ezra Morita, center, looked over a shakedown of pine needles yesterday during the Department of Agriculture's inspection of Christmas trees at the Matson shipyard in Sand Island.

State agriculture inspectors were on the lookout for aggressive yellow-jacket wasps hitchhiking on this year’s shipment of Christmas trees but instead found slugs in 11 shipping containers yesterday, delaying the delivery of an estimated 2,000 to 8,000 trees.

Until yesterday, only seven shipping containers had been discovered with pests during this Christmas tree shipping season, said plant quarantine inspector Glenn Sakamoto, who discovered a slug in one of the containers he inspected yesterday at Matson Navigation Co.’s Sand Island docks.

Plant quarantine inspectors were particularly looking for yellow-jacket wasps this year. But instead, slugs seem to be this season’s most common pest arriving in shipping containers from Oregon and Washington.

Slugs have shown up hiding in Honolulu-bound Christmas trees before, Sakamoto said, "but it does seem like there are a few more this year."

Sixty-two shipping containers — each holding 200 to 800 trees — arrived Saturday night aboard Matson Navigation Co.’s MV Manoa, one of four shipments of Christmas trees this year.

The 51 containers from the MV Manoa that passed yesterday’s agricultural inspection were ready to be released to Don Quijote, City Mill, Kmart and Christmas Tree Hawaii, said Gary Nakamatsu, Matson’s vice president of sales for Hawaii.

While yesterday’s inspection resulted in the largest quarantine of trees so far this year, it is unknown what effect the discovery of slugs will have on Hawaii’s annual Christmas tree market.

Agriculture officials first have to determine the species of slugs this week to decide whether they are harmful to Hawaii’s fragile ecosystem, Sakamoto said.

If the slugs are a threat, then it is up to the Christmas tree wholesalers in Washington and Oregon to decide whether to ship the containers back to the Pacific Northwest — or have each tree removed from its container and treated individually by the Department of Agriculture at the wholesalers’ cost, Sakamoto said.

"In a few days we’ll know," he said.

The MV Manoa brought in this year’s first shipment of a relatively "small" delivery of trees on Nov. 13, Matson officials said.

The bulk of this year’s Christmas trees arrived on the SS Kauai on Nov. 20 and aboard the MV Manoa Saturday night.

The fourth delivery of another small batch of trees arrives on the SS Kauai this Saturday.

In the previous quarantine cases this year, two containers that had slugs were treated in Honolulu and released for sale. Two more are scheduled to be treated this week, Sakamoto said.

Three more containers found with slugs were returned to the mainland, Sakamoto said.

Plant quarantine inspectors open every container but spot-check only one or two trees inside.

This year, customers who brought trees home found two tree frogs and a salamander, which were all alive, Sakamoto said.

Anyone who finds a pest on a Christmas tree should call the state Department of Agriculture’s pest hot line at 643-PEST (7378).


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