Navy urged to hold Northern Edge 2019 in the fall

Sun’aq spokesman says the common goal is to protect the nation and natural resources.

Concerns over the impact of military training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska on fisheries and the environmental is prompting a plea to the U.S. Pacific Fleet to conduct Northern Edge 2019 in the autumn of that year.

Northern Edge 2017 is scheduled to begin in the Gulf on May 1, about two weeks before the start of the famed Copper River wild salmon season, despite concerns from several communities who want the training to be conducted at another time, and in another place.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, has asked the Navy to give serious thought to conducting the Gulf component of Northern Edge 2019 in the fall. The senator said in her letter to the U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet that while she understands that this alternative is under consideration that it is important that their consideration of this alternative be transparent to the affected communities.

Meanwhile she urged the Navy’s outreach team to continue its work with communities and stakeholders before, during and after NE 17.

“In addition to the scheduling issues, it has also been suggested to me that the Navy review the base of scientific knowledge relating to the compatibility of naval exercises with high value fisheries and commit to fund research gaps, she said.

Thomas Lance, natural resources director for the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, said his organization is pleased with Murkowski’s message.

“The location as well as the time is not appropriate for a place that our entire fishing industry in the Gulf of Alaska relies on for pristine and productive waters and the whole food chain function in synch with each other,” Lance said.  “The reason why the Sun’aq people and Eyak people stayed here so long is because of the richness of the resources here.

“Just from the subsistence side of it, the Sun’aq is the largest of the tribes in the Gulf of Alaska and when you talk about the value in subsistence and culture, how do you put a dollar value on that?” Lance asked.

The archipelago tribes have had three formal consultations with the Navy and told them that they have to move the training exercises further offshore, he said.  “There is no great time to do it, but they seem to have picked the worse times,” he said.

The tribes would prefer late fall or winter, he said.

Tribal entities would also like to see the Navy do more research related to fish mortality in that area.

“Give us more detailed information to assure tribal leaders and elders that they are not going to slowly exterminate the species that are the foundation of our economy and culture. If they can assure us that they won’t exterminate those species than everybody here would be happy and continue supporting them,” Lance said.

Our common goal, he said, is to protect the nation and our natural resources.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.