The required permits are not yet in hand, but the Navy is moving full steam ahead on plans to conduct war training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska for nearly two weeks in early May. The Northern Edge training includes an area from 12 miles off the Kenai Peninsula to 140 miles out. It will use high frequency sonar for submarines, live weapons and explosives, bombs, missiles and torpedoes to sink large carrier ships. Nearly a dozen Alaska communities have or will pass resolutions asking the Navy to conduct training anytime between September and March. In the 43 years that the Navy has conducted trainings in the Gulf, only twice have they occurred in May (2007, 2008).
“The point of these resolutions is saying we are the people who live in coastal communities who depend on commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing and there are birds and marine mammal concerns and May is the worst time to be doing this. It’s not that we don’t want the Navy to be doing what they need to do for training – it’s the time and locations from these communities.”
Emily Stolarcyk is program director for the Eyak Preservation Council of Cordova. The Navy exercises are planned during the most important breeding and migratory periods for salmon, birds, whales and more.
“About 90 percent of the Navy’s training area is in designated as essential fish habitat for all five species of pacific salmon. This covers every day of the year so by asking the Navy to simply move the time of year we think that largely any negative impacts from their exercises could be very well mitigated. “
Stolarcyk points out that the Navy does not yet have the go ahead from federal agencies.
“The Navy does not have a permit to conduct these exercises. So in order for the Navy to do what they want, they need a letter of authorization from the NMFS and they do not yet have that letter. Nor has the Navy published a record of decision. Both the record of decision and the letter of authorization would actually cover their plans for the GOA for the next five years”
This week the Eyak Council is sending letters to all Alaska fishing permit holders asking them to contact decision makers.
It contains a letter for fishermen to sign and send to Sen. Lisa Murkowski with an option to send a courtesy copy to the NMFS and Pacific Command, which is the area of the Navy in charge of this exercise.
Stolarcyk says she is hopeful Alaska’s congressional delegation and the Navy will respond to Alaskans voices.
“ I am. And I will continue to be hopeful right up until May 1. This is the water that we depend upon at the time we depend on it most. So I am hopeful that our voice can get through to the Navy and they can understand that it’s not just about what they need – it’s about incorporating the needs of local communities that depend on these waters for sustenance. “
The Navy will talk about its training plans next week at ComFish in Kodiak.