The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

Navy OKs 'Northern Edge' despite appeals

 


It might not be what local political leaders and area fishermen want, but the United States Navy hit the waters in full force on May 1 as part of its 2017 “Northern Edge” training exercise. In all, more than 6,000 people were scheduled to be involved in various exercises in the Gulf Alaska over the next two weeks as part of the training exercise.

Despite requests from Sen. Lisa Murkowski and an April report from the National Marine Fisheries Service that said the Northern Edge exercise could have an adverse effect on fish species, the U.S. Navy announced last week it would be conducting training exercises. Northern Edge is being over a large expanse of the Gulf of Alaska over the next two weeks.

The Northern Edge exercise, which wil run through May 13, is the largest military exercise in Alaska this year, according to the Alaskan Command.

The Navy did make several concessions due to concerns that the exercises could adversely affects. While announcing it would be holding training exercises, Navy officials said they would be scaling back plans, and placing tighter limits on allowable Gulf of Alaska activities. Among the major concessions being made is the elimination of one of two planned large-scale Carrier Strike Group exercises

The Carrier Strike Group exercise will have associated antisubmarine warfare and live-sonar activities. The Navy’s original plan called for two such exercises, plus up to two sinking exercises.

The reduction in the Carrier Strike Group exercise, according to the Alaskan Command, will inflict fewer potential noise impacts and other disturbances to marine mammals.

The Northern Edge activities have been controversial in Gulf of Alaska towns, where local residents are dependent on fishing. Local governments and groups have called for Northern Edge to be rescheduled to a time later in the year to avoid conflicts with the fishing season.

The NMFS’s April 19 report said the exercise would have several negative impacts but that the Navy’s activities “are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species, and “will not result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.” It did, however, concludes that  the Navy exercises are “likely to adversely affect” many protected marine species.

Species expected to be adversely impacted include humpback whales, fin whales, sei whales, North Pacific Right whales, blue whales, sperm whales, Steller sea lions, and several threatened runs of coho salmon, chum salmon, and steelhead trout.

“The effects analysis contained in this opinion concluded that individual blue whales, North Pacific right whales, fin whales, humpback whales (Mexico and Western North Pacific DPSs), sei whales, sperm whales, Steller sea lions (Western DPS), and listed fish species are likely to be exposed to active sonar, sound fields associated with underwater detonations, or noise and other environmental cues associated with the movement of surface vessels. In some instances, for marine mammals, we concluded that this exposure is likely to result in evasive behavior or changes in behavioral state which we would consider “harassment,” said the report.

Local fishermen have said the Navy exercises could cause the normal arrival of fish to coastal communities to be delayed, and thereby creating a hardship for local fishermen and businesses.

 

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