Northern Edge military exercises begin in Gulf of Alaska in early May

Northern Edge, the military’s largest joint training exercise in Alaska, is set to begin in Alaska in early May, including in the Gulf of Alaska, with exact dates to be announced shortly before the event begins.

The training, involving some 15,000 personnel from all of the nation’s military services and interagency partners, has occurred every other year in odd years since the 1990s. While the size of the overall exercise varies, it is a vast operation.

John Mosher, a civilian environmental planner for the Navy, announced earlier this year that the Navy had proposed adding a 246,000-square-mile zone that would extend westward as far as Dutch Harbor, to allow for maneuvering military vessels and aircraft as they would be maneuvered during an actual real-world scenario.

The extended area would not be used for live-fire drills or active sonar. Such activities would be only in the previous existing war games zone.

Fisheries and environmental entities have continued to voice concerns that these exercises pose a threat to fisheries, marine mammals, and the environment, noting that these exercises come as salmon are migrating into the Gulf of Alaska and just weeks before the start of the famed Copper River salmon fishery.

Navy officials have said that they maintain a commitment to avoid detonating explosives in waters less than 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) deep. More information on the Navy’s marine species monitoring program is online at www.navymarinespeciesmonitoring.us.

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The Navy has funded marine species monitoring within the offshore waters of the Gulf of Alaska since 2009, with approximately $6 million invested through 2021.

Gulf of Alaska Line-Transect Surveys Researchers from National Marine Fisheries Service and other entities conducted two large vessel Gulf of Alaska Line-Transect Surveys (GOALS) in 2009 and 2013 with Navy funding. They used a combination of photo identification, passive acoustics, and satellite tagging to determine distribution, movements, and densities of marine mammals.

The Pacific Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species conducted the Gulf of Alaska Cetacean Survey in the summer of 2021, a program also funded by the Navy. The Navy has declined for security reasons to allow environmentalists not affiliated with the armed forces to come on board ships participating in the war games to do their own spotting of sea mammals, but has continued to fund that monitoring program.

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