(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 and expands 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.
"This is a big step toward continuing the tremendous work the Northwest Straits Commission does to protect one of our state's most treasured resources," said Senator Murray. "The Northwest Straits Commission has gained national recognition for its conservation efforts and ability to bring stakeholders together. The legislation that Congressman Larsen and I introduced today will allow the Commission to continue to fund research, stewardship, and restoration efforts throughout the Northwest Straits."
“The Northwest Straits Initiative is a grassroots effort that draws its strength from community cooperation,” said Rep. Larsen. “The Initiative has succeeded by bringing together a diverse group of local leaders who are committed to protecting this marine resource and the livelihoods that depend on it. The legislation Senator Murray and I introduced today will help the Commission continue its good work.”
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 $8.4 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.