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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Northern Edge Exercises Under Way in Gulf of Alaska

Biennial military training exercises known as Northern Edge are underway in Alaska, including the Gulf of Alaska, where commercial fisheries critical to many coastal communities are also about to begin.

Major participants, there to sharpen their tactical combat skills and communication relationships, include the US Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, US Pacific Fleet, Air National Guard, and other military units.

Their presence is again raising concerns among fishermen and environmentalists worried about potential adverse impact of training exercises.

Marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, cites a National Marine Fisheries Service report that says species expected to be adversely impacted by the Navy exercises include several species of whales, sea lions and seals, as well as threatened runs of coho and chum salmon and steelhead trout. While the NMFS biological opinion and an environmental impact study by the Navy simply predict impact, based on existing scientific literature, the actual impact of these exercises needs to be measured with a real time environmental monitoring program conducted during the exercise, but the Navy has refused a request that it conduct such studies, Steiner said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently urged the US Pacific Command to give serious thought to conducting the Gulf of Alaska component of Northern Edge 2019 in the fall. The senator said she understood that this alternative is under consideration and noted that it is important that the Navy’s consideration of this alternative be transparent to affected communities.

In spite of the Navy’s improved outreach, there remains dissatisfaction with respect to the timing of the exercise, specifically its proximity to the fishing season in the Gulf of Alaska. “Some stakeholders argue that scientific knowledge is insufficient to assure that the Navy’s activities during this sensitive time are fully compatible with the region’s commercial fishing economy,” she said.

She also urged the Navy to continue working with communities and stakeholders during and after Northern Edge 2017. “If adverse environmental impacts are identified in the course of the exercise, it is important that they be immediately addressed,” she said.

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