Northern Edge 2023 gets under way in Gulf of Alaska

Some in fisheries are concerned what this could mean during salmon run

Northern Edge 2023 is underway in parts of the state, including waters south of Prince William Sound, where the U.S. Navy is using a widely expanded area for transiting of warships and aircraft,

but not for live-fire or active sonar exercises.

The biennial war games, which military officials contend are necessary for combat readiness, are a joint field training exercise for all branches of the U.S. armed forces. They are being joined this year by service members from the United Kingdom and Australia, to improve multinational and multi-domain operations designed to provide high-end, realistic war fighter training, to develop and improve joint interoperability, and enhance combat readiness of participating forces, according to officials at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Northern Edge is a U.S. joint field training exercise sponsored by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and led by Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, and is conducted in and around Alaska.

Thousands of participants from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army, including Reserve and National Guard units, are involved.

Operating locations include Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks International Airport, and Ted Stevens International Airport, among others. The training will take place in and over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Gulf of Alaska, and temporary maritime activities area.


In advance of these biennial exercises the U.S. Navy has an ongoing marine species monitoring program in the Gulf of Alaska, known as the Temporary Maritime Activities Area (TMAA), with studies to help the Navy better understand species distribution in relation to Navy activities to support the Navy’s environmental impact analysis, consultations and permitting.

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

Still many people engaged in Alaska’s commercial fisheries industry, as well as some sports and subsistence harvesters, have voiced continuous concerns about the potential adverse environmental impact of these war games on habitat critical to fish returning to Alaska waters.

Among them is Carol Hoover of the Eyak Preservation Council in Cordova, who said this training, explosives and sonar are happening during the first large wild salmon run in Alaska, the Copper River wild salmon run, and no non-military observers allowed in the area where the war games are conducted. 

While the military have done intense studies, they have ignored pleas from all the communities encircling the entire Gulf of Alaska region to not conduct these exercises in May, Hoover said.

Given the impact of climate change, a number of surveys are ongoing to access water temperatures, spawning habitat, and where anadromous fish, shellfish and other species are transiting, so researchers can keep track of where the ocean’s predators and prey are for each fishery at different times of the year.

There is also increasing concern over the number of juvenile fish caught incidentally to directed harvest, who do not survive to their adult stage and return to spawn in their natal habitat. These issues have been the subject of increasing discussion at meetings of federal and state fisheries managers in Alaska.