It’s war in the gulf and the US Navy is on hand to protect us. No, not that gulf! I’m talking about the Gulf of Alaska and it’s actually mock war—if, that is, you don’t happen to be a fin whale or a wild salmon.
This May, the Navy will again sail its warships into the Gulf of Alaska. There, it will perform military maneuvers and possibly drop bombs, launch torpedoes and missiles, and engage in activities that stand a significant chance of poisoning those once-pristine waters, while it prepares for future battles elsewhere on the planet. Think of it as a war against wildlife, an assault on the environment and local coastal communities.
And call it irony or call it American life in 2017, but the US military’s Alaska Command has branded Emily Stolarcyk “a troublemaker” for insistently pointing this out. In a state where such a phrase is the equivalent of an obscenity, some have bluntly called her “anti-military.” The office of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has termed her a “rabble-rouser,” while a Kodiak Assembly member labeled some of what she’s been saying about the Navy “just silly.”
As a resident of the tiny fishing town of Cordova, Alaska, the most radical rabble-rousing thing about Stolarcyk may be the passion with which she loves this region of the planet in all its majesty. It’s why she’s taken a fierce and unwavering stand for years now against the ongoing training exercises the Navy carries out in the Gulf of Alaska during one of the largest migrations of birds and marine life on earth. These exercises, which inject tons of toxic materials into the gulf and use significant explosive ordnance, are once again scheduled to take place just as Alaska’s commercial fishing season opens.
Located in the state’s massive Chugach National Forest, coastal Cordova is nestled between the glacial-clad Chugach Mountains, Prince William Sound, and the Copper River. Fishing is the heart and soul of the town, as well as the foundation of its economy. A rough-and-tumble place, Cordova regularly lands on lists of the top 10 American fishing ports, whether measured in pounds of fish caught annually or their value. A fish tax pays for its schools and the upkeep of most of its infrastructure. At least a quarter of its jobs are connected to the commercial fishing industry. “Without fishing, the town wouldn’t even be here,” says Stolarcyk, who knows the intricacies of the Navy’s plans better than most people in the Navy do, as we tour Cordova’s harbor.