Joint military exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, which take place every other spring on the eve of the Copper River commercial salmon fishery, are already drawing fire from entities concerned about adverse impact on the area’s fishery and environment in the spring of 2023.
While the actual scheduling of the Northern Edge war games will be determined by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, opponents of holding these exercises in May are asking the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Northwest to cease holding the event in May of 2023.
The Copper River District has been experiencing below average harvests for several years and when it opens for 12 hours on Monday, May 16, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is expected to take a conservative management approach for the start of the season.
In years past, harvesters, communities and environmental groups have told the U.S. Navy it’s just bad timing. This past week, Carol Hoover, executive director of the Eyak Preservation Council, citing years of protests from this region, again requested that the military not conduct these exercises in May because of potential adverse impact on dwindling fish stocks.
Navy officials responding to Hoover’s letter said that those comments and all other comments will be considered by the Navy and will be responded to in the final supplemental environmental impact statement, expected to be released this summer or fall.
“Northern Edge is a joint services exercise that historically occurs across broad areas of Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska every other year for about a two-week period,” Navy Region Northwest spokeswoman Julianne Stanford said. “The exercise is critical to ensuring our military personnel are prepared to respond to a variety of national defense missions.”
Stanford noted that the Navy has participated in this or its predecessor exercises for decades, but that it is the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command that determines exercise dates, based on a number of factors, to include weather conditions, safety of personnel and equipment effectiveness of training availability of forces, deployment schedules, maintenance periods, other exercise schedules within the Pacific region as well as important environmental and socio-economic considerations.
“Pacific Air Forces is currently planning exercise Northern Edge 2023 for May 2023 in the air, land and maritime areas of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex,” Stanford remarked. “Part of the planning considerations include orienting the at-sea training area in the Gulf of Alaska to specifically avoid overlap with salmon fisheries management areas migration corridors, and areas of greatest species occurrence.
“After a detailed environmental analysis,” she added, “the Navy has determined that its activities will have negligible impacts to individual fishes and will have no impact to fish populations or fishery harvest.”