Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Northern Edge Military Exercises Begin in Gulf of Alaska May 3

Military officials preparing for biennial war games in Alaska say that environmental protection of fish, marine and other wildlife are an integral part of these exercises, but are not providing any specifics about weapons to be used or specific precautionary measures.

One Pacific Air Force spokesperson who declined to provide details told the Air Force Times that it was necessary to keep these details under wraps to preserve a degree of realism for participants.

Air Force Capt. Kitsana Dounglomchan, who is stationed in Hawaii, said that the Navy’s training activities use an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize potential risk to marine life, including posting qualified lookouts who observe for marine species during at-sea activities. According to Dounglomchan, if marine species are detected, training activities will cease until the animal leaves the mitigation area or activities will be delayed until a later time. Participating military units are also required to report sonar use and submit marine mammal sighting reports, he said. These are included in the Navy’s annual report to National Marine Fisheries Service on Northern Edge in the Gulf of Alaska as part of compliance permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act an Endangered Species Act, he said.

None of this information has eased concerns of residents of the Gulf of Alaska’s coastal fishing communities, who rely on the fish, marine mammals and other wildlife for economic stability and subsistence. Several community councils have passed resolutions against conducting these war game in the Gulf of Alaska in May. Fisheries and environmental groups have also voiced concern about these events happening right before fishing begins.

Northern Edge 2021 is scheduled to be active in the Gulf of Alaska from May 3 to May 14.

The famed Copper River salmon fishery begins again this year just after the war games end.

Dune Lankard of Cordova, Alaska, a veteran commercial and subsistence fish harvester who now works for a conservation entity, noted that the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound salmon fisheries have had three disastrous commercial fishing seasons in a row. These salmon fisheries are critical to the survival of coastal communities and Native villages, where fishing is a way of life, he said. Absolute facts and scientific date are necessary to determine the true impacts of Northern Edge on the area’s wild salmon and wildlife, he said.

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