Navy being sued over Puget Sound explosions

The Navy is in hot water again, this time accused of indiscriminately killing fish in order to conduct training for bomb disposal teams.

The Navy is being sued for exploding ordinance in Puget Sound waters, allegedly killing thousands of fish, including federally protected species such as Chinook salmon.

The Navy, however, said training for its explosive ordinance disposal teams is essential for both military and civilian purposes.

A lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle today under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Navy sets off between 180 and 300 underwater explosive charges each year in some of the most sensitive waters of Puget Sound, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“The Navy has been repeatedly warned but apparently feels it does not have to comply with laws unless it is sued,” said Adam Draper, an attorney for the group.

“We are not trying to block Navy demolition exercises; we are simply trying to induce the Navy to train without creating needless carnage,” he said.

“The Navy doesn’t need to destroy Puget Sound’s wildlife at the same time they are training to protect us,” added Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Juvenile salmon and the food web of Puget Sound would be much better protected if the Navy would simply take the measures suggested by the government’s own scientists.”

Several times each month, the Navy detonates live explosives deep underwater to provide training for its divers in destroying and disabling mines.

The detonations also harms marine life, the lawsuit claims.

In one exercise involving a five-pound explosive charge set off near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, observers counted 5,000 dead fish on the surface but estimated that up to another 20,000 fish died and sank out of sight to the seabed.

Since 2002, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the two civilian agencies charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act, have urged the Navy to undertake alternative training practices to minimize damage to marine life, such as using bubble curtains or other containers to minimize blast impacts, or conducting the training in quarries, lakes or the open ocean rather than in the waters of Puget Sound.

The Navy has come under repeated criticism in recent years for using sonar during training off the Washington coast, which some say can harm whales and other marine mammals.

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