Better Communications Urged Between Navy and Fisheries Communities

Coastal communities’ concerns over military training exercises scheduled in the Gulf of Alaska next summer have prompted Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska to ask the US Navy to be more transparent about what’s on tap for Northern Edge 2017.

Murkowski chided Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a letter this week for what she said was a lack of transparency, for not discussing proposed mitigation and avoidance techniques with stakeholder communities. She said she wants to ensure greater collaboration and cooperation between communities and the Navy prior to Northern Edge 2017.

The fishing community of Homer, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, has already passed a resolution asking the Navy to refrain from using live ordnance or sonar in many marine protected area, including NOAA Fisheries Marine Protected Areas, state marine protected areas and habitat areas of particular concern. Homer also wants the Navy to relocate its training area to the far areas of the Gulf and away from seamounts, and for the Navy to schedule those training exercises after mid-September and before spring, to avoid impacting migrating salmon and other species.

Those 2017 exercises are scheduled to run from May 1-12. That’s when many species of marine and anadromous fishes are migrating and spawning in the training area, the Homer resolution said.

And the port of Homer is reliant on the fish and wildlife resources in the Gulf of Alaska for livelihoods supported by commercial fishing, the resolution said.

Murkowski told Mabus that she has received over 100 letters from residents concerned about the timing and impact of Northern Edge 2017. Residents of coastal communities, like other Alaskans, are strong supporters of the military, she said, but they need to know that fishery conflicts will be avoided and marine resources will be protected.

The senator urged the commander of the Pacific Fleet, with his partners at the Alaskan Command, to quickly reengage with stakeholders, lest they endanger support for the Navy’s long-term involvement in Northern Edge.