Press Releases

Senator Murray, Rep. Larsen Reintroduce Legislation to Reauthorize Northwest Straits Commission

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D, WA-02), lead Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, reintroduced legislation to reauthorize the Northwest Straits Commission in the Puget Sound.

The Northwest Straits Commission is a community-led effort to restore marine habitats in the Northwest Straits region and address local threats to marine environments with projects like restoring shellfish populations, protecting vulnerable ecosystems, and promoting growth for native water and shore-based plants. The Northwest Straits Commission provides funding, training, and support to seven county-based Marine Resources Committees (MRCs) and 15 Tribes. The Commission advises local officials on how to best carry out environmental projects and provides expertise to community organizations to help them be partners in their work by, for example, training volunteers to identify forage fish spawning sites. Senator Murray led the authorization of the Northwest Straits Commission in 1998 and has secured federal funding for the Commission every single year in the decades since. 

In August of last year, Senator Murray visited Lone Tree Point with Northwest Straits Commission Director Lucas Hart and Swinomish Tribal leaders to see how the Swinomish Tribe is working on several conservation and restoration projects in partnership with the Northwest Straits Commission and the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee. Photos and b-roll from that visit are HERE.

“The Northwest Straits Commission is an initiative that is close to my heart—I helped establish the Commission all the way back in 1998 because I know how important it is to invest in community-led restoration projects that help our marine habitats recover and thrive,” said Senator Murray. “Keeping the rich marine resources in the Northwest Straits healthy is critical not only for local communities and Tribes, but also to our economy in Washington state. The Northwest Straits Commission is a true model for community-led collaboration on vital restoration work and I’m proud to continue championing their work year after year. I worked hard to secure additional funding for Northwest Straits in our most recent government funding bills, despite tough budget caps—and this legislation would be an important step to help ensure the Commission is funded and able to continue carrying out its vital mission for years to come. I’ll always fight to secure the federal resources and support we need to restore and protect the Puget Sound for generations to come.”

“The Northwest Straits Initiative is a grassroots effort that draws its strength from community cooperation,” said Rep. Larsen, the lead Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. “By bringing together a diverse group of local leaders and community stakeholders, the Initiative has long been a catalyst for well-executed projects that restore marine habitat, protect Washington state’s environment and create more jobs in Northwest Washington. I look forward to working with Senator Murray and members of the Washington delegation to pass this bill to help the Commission continue its important work.”

“The Northwest Straits Initiative benefits marine and shoreline conservation by supporting a framework for collaboration that starts at the local level. This drives broad collaboration with numerous partners, from the bottom up. Reauthorization will acknowledge the remarkable value this unique approach to marine conservation has had over the last 25 years and celebrate the tens of thousands of hours contributed by amazing volunteers,” said Lucas Hart, Director of the Northwest Straits Commission.

“There are no other initiatives like the Northwest Straits Initiative in the United States,” said Nan McKay, a Governor’s appointee Northwest Straits Commission. “It is a unique approach to solving important issues that have a direct impact on ecosystems, economies, and cultures in a particular region. In the last year alone, we’ve surveyed over 600 acres of eelgrass, nearly 400 acres of kelp, removed hundreds of invasive European green crabs, and launched work on the removal of derelict vessels with Tribal, local, and agency partners. The momentum that’s built through the citizen-driven Northwest Straits Initiative is amazing!”

“MRCs are integral to the Initiative's action-oriented approach. Marine Resources Committee members bring energy to new inventive ideas, like our recent pilot derelict vessel turn-in event and voluntary eelgrass protection zones that grow partnerships and lead to regional impacts. Reauthorization will ensure long-term federal support, which helps us in implementing long-term solutions like these,” said Sam Whitridge, San Juan County’s marine program coordinator and staff for the county’s MRC.

“Being recognized as a federal program highlights the crucial role of the Northwest Straits Initiative in uniting the community for marine conservation and restoration efforts. We’ve focused on and seen positive responses from our work monitoring critical habitats and marine resources such as local bull kelp beds and forage fish spawning beaches, educating shoreline homeowners about the importance of the marine environment, and advising our local government on sea level rise issues that require consideration in local policies. As a volunteer, I'm energized by the power of this local approach,” said Barbara Bennett, Island County MRC member and previous Chair.

“The Northwest Straits Initiative engages communities in vital restoration work – including restoring Olympia oyster populations, removing derelict vessels and fishing gear, and eradicating invasive European green crabs – and teaches kids and adults about the wonders of Puget Sound.  Reauthorization now will put the organization on a firm foundation, ensuring its work endures into the future,” said Laura Bradstreet, Executive Director at the Puget Sound Partnership.

“The NWS Initiative coordinates a broad group of partners dedicated to, and actively working on, restoration of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. Successful recovery and restoration will take a collective effort from everyone and across all levels—Tribes, State, federal, and local jurisdictions included. The Initiative fills an important role by creating space for this collective effort, engaging citizen scientists and fostering community-led collaboration; harnessing everyone’s contributions for the benefit of our marine environments and this place we all call home,” said Cecilia Gobin, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Conservation Policy Analyst and Tribal Appointee to the Northwest Straits Commission.

“The Whatcom MRC appreciates the continued support and efforts by Senator Murray and Representative Larson to secure the reauthorization of the Northwest Straits Commission,” said Heather Spore, Whatcom Marine Resources Committee Chair. “This bill would ensure continued funding for each of the seven MRCs and enable us to continue our work to restore and protect marine habitats and ecosystems throughout Puget Sound vital to local communities and Coast Salish tribes. We are thankful for your commitment to community based marine conservation.”

“Since 1999, Snohomish County MRC has engaged citizen volunteers in protecting Puget Sound through science, education, and stewardship,” said Gregg Farris, Snohomish County Surface Water Management Director. “Thank you to Rep. Larsen and Sen. Murray for recognizing the importance of the Northwest Straits Commission in protecting the Salish Sea. From removing derelict boats in the Snohomish Estuary Puget Sound, conducting forage fish monitoring and beach cleanups, to supporting complex habitat restoration projects like Meadowdale Beach – the Northwest Straits Commission’s funding, training, and support make this critical work possible.”

“The Skagit County Marine Resources Committee contributes to marine resource recovery and protection through local engagement, involving over 300 volunteers who have contributed 50,000+ hours. Our achievements include restoring millions of native oysters and abalone, collecting critical forage fish data, restoring shoreline habitats, engaging students in marine research, removing derelict crab pots, conducting bull kelp surveys, and hosting educational community outreach events. Securing federal funding to support the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative is essential to continue protecting our marine environment for future generations. We would like to extend our gratitude to the dedication and unwavering support of Rep. Rick Larsen and Senator Patty Murray,” said the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee.

The Northwest Straits Commission was established following the bipartisan partnership of Senator Murray and former Congressman Jack Metcalf. Murray and Metcalf released a report in 1998 that laid the groundwork for the Northwest Straits Commission and its work protecting marine habitats, and later that year, Senator Murray successfully authorized the Northwest Straits Commission for a six-year period.

Over the years, Senator Murray has helped secure tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for the Northwest Straits Commission’s restoration work and research. Most recently, as Chair of the Senate Appropriations, Senator Murray secured $1 million for the Northwest Straits Initiative through programmatic funding in the appropriations bills she wrote and passed into law in March—this was the first time Northwest Straits received programmatic funding since the original authorization expired in 2004, and is significant in helping to ensure the Commission is funded long into the future. Murray will be fighting to protect and build on these investments in the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2025 and in future spending bills.  

In the appropriations bills for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023, Senator Murray—a longtime appropriator—secured a total of $6 million in Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) funding for the Northwest Straits Commission; that funding was essential to the removal of the “Windjammer” sailboat that had been partially submerged near the Kukutali Preserve since 2009 on Swinomish Tribal tideland. Prior to the return of Congressionally Directed Spending in Fiscal Year 2022, Murray ensured the Northwest Straits Commission received annual funding through the EPA’s Puget Sound Geographic Program. Prior to that, Murray secured CDS funding for the Northwest Straits Commission after the original authorization for the Commission expired in 2004.

The Northwest Straits Commission is part of Senator Murray’s commitment to salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Senator Murray helped secure a number of provisions that would benefit salmon and ecosystem restoration, including $1 billion for culvert removal, replacement, and restoration; $172 million for NOAA’s Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF), a grant program that provides funding to states and Tribes to protect, conserve, and restore endangered and threatened salmon populations; $207 million for the Coastal Zone Management Program, and $220 million for the fish passage facility at Howard Hanson Dam—overall, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers nearly $3 billion in funding opportunities for coastal infrastructure and climate change resilience. 

Senator Murray was also instrumental in passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which delivered the largest investment in combating the climate crisis in American history. The Inflation Reduction Act provided a total of $3.3 billion for NOAA—including $2.6 billion to support NOAA’s climate, habitat restoration, and fisheries missions; $200 million for NOAA Facilities and National Marine Sanctuaries; and $20 million for more efficient NOAA environmental reviews.