Fruit on the water before a Chinese ban on California citrus went into effect will be accepted.

“China has agreed to accept shipments of California citrus that sailed by April 17,” Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said April 24.

APHIS received a letter from Chinese officials early the week of April 15 stating that as of April 18, California citrus would not be allowed into China because loads of fruit were found with the disease Phytophthora syringae, or brown rot.

APHIS officials have met with California citrus industry officials to collect a list of shipments in transit to China, Espinosa said.

And the agency is currently working on a response to China which will include the shipments, description of the disease and treatment alternatives, with the goal of reopening the market to California citrus, she said.

The ban, which does not effect citrus imported from Florida, Arizona and Texas, came as a shock to APHIS and California industry officials.

The short amount of time between the announcement of the ban and the ban was one surprise. Another was the fact that the infected fruit arrived in February but U.S. officials weren’t notified until April.

Citrus industry officials also believe that only a small percentage of fruit was affected, and that a blanket ban was uncalled for.

“We wish they hadn’t taken such an abrupt action,” said Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, Auburn. “It seems kind of heavy-handed.”

With the news that China was allowing fruit already on the water in, however, prospects for lifting the ban were improving, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

“I’m more optimistic than I was a week ago,” he said. “It shows that they’re willing to accept our technical information and that they see we’re making a strong effort to satisfy their concerns.”

California shipments to China are set to wind down in about mid-May. California typically ships up to 11 million cartons of citrus to China annually, making it the state’s second-largest export market.