Speculation has begun anew on plans for Northern Edge 2019, military war games in the Gulf of Alaska anticipated on the eve of the commercial salmon fishing season, prompting great concern from those whose livelihoods depend on fisheries.
Spokespersons for the Eyak Preservation Council say they have learned that the 2019 games may include an aircraft carrier strike group and that these games may be far larger than those conducted in 2017 or 2015.
They cite an email and an unclassified document from NE19’s chief planner, Victor Carrillo, showing that the military exercise is scheduled for May 13-24. The document from Carrillo, who is stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, says that a carrier strike group is invited to participate, the Eyak Preservation Council said.
In response to another media query regarding a potential carrier strike group participating, military spokesperson Lt. j.g. Rachel McCarr, who is stationed in Hawaii, said “Northern Edge is still in the early planning stages, and we have not yet announced what ships will participate.”
U.S. Air Force Captain Bryant Davis Jr., director of public affairs at Alaskan NORAD Region/Alaskan Command/11th Air Force, also said that details on Northern Edge 2019 are preliminary at this time, and the size and scope of the exercise has not been determined.
Davis also said that Northern Edge is primarily an aerial exercise with aircraft based out of Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
“The vast majority of activity occurs over the Joint Pacific Range Complex in Interior Alaska, with only a small portion taking place over the Gulf of Alaska,” he said,
Military exercises in the Gulf of Alaska have for years faced opposition from Alaska’s coastal fishing communities, who are concerned about the potential impact of these exercises on fish and the ocean environment in general. Resolutions passed in Cordova, Girdwood, Homer, Kodiak Island Borough, Seldovia, Seward, Sitka, Tenakee Springs, Valdez and Whittier all asked the Navy to conduct those exercises in the fall in order to protect migrating salmon and other marine life.
According to Carol Hoover, executive director of the Eyak Preservation Council, the issues “are that explosive munitions and high-powered sonar can impact fish, sea mammals and sea birds, especially at times of the year when migratory species are present. The problems are both the allowed scale of these exercises and the timing,” she said.
“The military refused our earlier requests that it have the National Academies of Sciences review the impacts of Gulf of Alaska war games,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservation scientist and former University of Alaska professor. “It also refused our requests for either comprehensive scientific monitoring of the exercises or that independent observers be allowed on the Navy vessels. The military’s refusals are against the public interest, and I hope it will reconsider these reasonable requests,” he said.