- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Nearly 50 commercial fishing boats linked together with line, creating a massive flotilla to draw attention to their protest of the Navy’s planned exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

The linked vessels were part of a group of more than 100 boats that set out from Cordova onto Orca Inlet, which opens onto the Gulf of Alaska, on Saturday.

“I’ve never seen anything like it on my life,” said organizer Emily Stolarcyk, program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council. “We had boats rafted five boats deep.”

Fishermen and environmentalists fear that the Navy’s Northern Edge exercises could endanger critical fish habitats. The exercises planned for June will be 12 miles away from the nearest point of land.

Protesters say marine animals could be harmed by explosions, sonar and up to 352,000 pounds of debris. One boat sported a sign that read “our livelihood is not a game.”

“We’re defending our fish from the Department of Defense,” said Stolarcyk. “We find no proof that they can conduct these trainings without significant environmental harm.”

But military officials with the Alaskan Command say the Navy has conducted training in the area for decades without major environmental harm. They say there is no designated endangered species habitat in the exercise zone, whose northern border is about 70 miles from Cordova.

The Cordova City Council wants the Navy to move the training 200 nautical miles offshore and to postpone the exercise until September after salmon have migrated. But the schedule is based on when the weather is ideal for training, a military official said.

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