Cantwell Helps Pass NW Straits Bill out of Committee, Sends to Full Senate

Bill promotes ecosystem health and strengthens the NW Straits’ marine-based economy in Northern Puget Sound

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) helped secure committee approval of legislation that would restore and protect marine resources in northern Puget Sound to achieve ecosystem health and sustainable resource use. The legislation was recommended today out of committee and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in May and cosponsored by Cantwell, the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative Act would build on years of successful marine restoration by reauthorizing and expanding the Northwest Straits Commission. For 14 years, the Commission has been designing and initiating projects that address marine habitat restoration in the Northwest Straits, an area that stretches from Northern Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Canadian border.

“The Northwest Straits bill is critical to supporting our robust coastal economy and fishing jobs, while preserving Washington’s coastal environment for generations to come,” Cantwell said. “The Northwest Straits bill ensures we continue to support the health and sustainability of our diverse marine resources. I’m proud to support this bill and look forward to seeing it move forward.”

“With today’s passage, this critical legislation moves one step closer to helping the Northwest Straits Initiative continue their work to restore marine habitats and preserve fragile environments so that they can be enjoyed by future generations,” said Senator Murray. “The Initiative’s highly successful grassroots conservation efforts are a model for habitat restoration and I look forward to fighting for this legislation as it comes before the full Senate.”

The Northwest Straits Commission has shown that it is an effective model in restoring our marine ecosystems. Using community input and grassroots support, the Northwest Straits Commission is able to design projects that target the most urgent ongoing and emerging issues in the marine environment, including facilitating bottomfish recovery, conducting nearshore habitat inventories, protecting forage fish species, establishing marine protected areas, conducting habitat assessments, removing derelict fishing nets that can trap and kill marine life, and facilitating education and outreach.

The Commission is a grassroots effort that involves non-profit organizations, volunteers, and representatives from county, tribal, state, and federal governments spanning seven Northwest Washington counties: Clallam, Jefferson, Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island, and Snohomish.

The legislation is supported by the Clallam, Jefferson, Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom, and San Juan counties; the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; The Tulalip Tribes; British Petroleum; Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association; the Coastal Conservation Association; People for Puget Sound; the Surfrider Foundation; and the Washington Scuba Alliance, among others.

Cantwell, former chair of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, helped pass the legislation out of the Commerce Committee in July 2009 and was a cosponsor of the legislation during the 111th Congress. Despite passing the House of Representatives in December 2009, the bill was blocked by Senate Republicans as the 111th Congress came to a close last December.

The NSMCI was first created in 1997 when Senator Murray and Republican Congressman Jack Metcalf joined forces to create a local advisory commission to address marine issues. The Commission was first authorized in 1998, and in 2004, an independent national evaluation panel of experts declared the program worthwhile and encouraged continued Congressional support.