(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Rick Larsen (D- WA 2nd) teamed up to introduce legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives that reauthorizes the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative Act. The Northwest Straits Initiative's goal is to restore and protect marine habitat in the Northwest Straits in order to achieve ecosystem health and sustainable resource use. Most importantly, the legislation establishes and funds the Northwest Straits Commission which designs and initiates projects that address marine habitat restoration projects in the straits.
“The Northwest Straits are one of our state’s most treasured economic and environmental resources,” said Senator Murray. “And this bill will help to ensure that that Northwest Straits Commission can continue their work to protect them. The Northwest Straits Commission has gained national recognition for its conservation efforts and ability to bring stakeholders together. The legislation will help fund their research, stewardship, and restoration efforts."
“The Northwest Straits Initiative brings together a diverse group of community leaders to protect our marine habitat and the livelihoods that depend on it,” said Rep. Larsen. “This legislation is about supporting conservation and local jobs that depend on the Northwest Straits, a critical resource for our region.”
In the late 1990s, Washington communities were divided over how to protect marine resources in the Northwest Straits - an area in the Northwest part of Washington from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Northern Puget Sound to the Canadian border. In 1997, Senator Murray and Congressman Jack Metcalf began to bring opposing stakeholders together to create an advisory commission that would address local marine conservation issues. At a time when few thought the experiment would work, their coordinated efforts created an innovative program for restoring and protecting marine habitats. In 1999, Congressman Rick Larsen joined the effort as a member of the Snohomish County Council and has been a staunch advocate of the Northwest Straits Initiative and the Commission's work ever since.
Since it was first authorized by Congress in 1998 in the Polish Fishing Act, Senator Murray has helped secure over $10 million for the Northwest Straits Initiative. When Senator Murray first secured funding for the Northwest Straits Commission she did so with the requirement that after five years an independent panel would evaluate its progress. In 2004, a national evaluation panel of experts chaired by Bill Ruckelshaus declared the program worthwhile, encouraging Congress to continue supporting the Northwest Straits Commission.
Today, the Northwest Straits Commission and its seven county volunteer groups extend from Clallam, Jefferson, Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island and Snohomish counties. The Northwest Straits Commission has shown that it is an effective model in restoring our marine ecosystems. The program awards grant funds which have been used to facilitate bottomfish recovery, conduct nearshore habitat inventories, protect forage fish species, establish marine protected areas, conduct habitat assessments remove, fishing nets and facilitate education and outreach.
The Northwest Straits Commission is a grassroots effort that involves representatives from county, tribal, state and federal governments, non-profit organizations and volunteers who are working together to protect and restore marine resources in northern Puget Sound.