NE17 is one of a number of forums and events planned for ComFish, which runs through April 1.
NE17 is one of a series of Pacific Command exercises to prepare joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It is designed to sharpen tactical combat skills, improve command, control and communication relationships and develop interoperable plans and programs across the joint force.
Military officials say that environmental protection is an integral part of the exercise and that the military in Alaska have conducted thorough environmental analysis of the activities to be conducted.
Captain Anastasia Schmit, public affairs director for the Alaska Command at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage, said in an interview that the Navy posts lookouts aboard ships during the exercise and if they encounter sea mammals all activities would stop. Schmit said military officials have also worked hard with local coastal communities for greater mitigation measures, and that everything they do is coordinated with the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Still their plans have raised concerns, as in past years, from seafood harvesters and environmentalists, over potential adverse impact of the military exercises on migrating fish and sea mammals.
Marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner of Anchorage said there is a need for independent observers aboard participating military vessels to provide independent verification of the Defense Department’s compliance with permit requirements and mitigation practices.
While they are not planning to use bombs or missiles, they will likely use exploding shells, and the duration of use of the Mid Frequency Active Sonar on beaked whales worries him, Steiner said. He and others would also like to see these training exercises moved to winter, reducing or eliminating the potential risk to marine mammals, seabirds and fish.