Cooperatove Conservation Project

Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative

Restoring and Conserving Puget Sound

Location: Far West Region: Washington

Project Summary: A citizen-based approach to restoring and protecting marine species and habitats in the Northwest Straits region of Washington State.
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Volunteers for Forage Fish Inventory Project sampling for surf smelt eggs.
Resource Challenge

The Northwest Straits is a spectacular stretch of marine environment that supports a great variety of habitats and species. By the mid-1990s, marine species such as salmon, orca, herring and rockfish were in rapid decline, and the loss of shoreline habitats was a major threat. Attempts to create a National Marine Sanctuary in the area met strong local opposition.

In 1998, Congress created the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative, directing the Northwest Straits Commission and its seven locally-based Marine Resources Committees (MRC) to launch an unprecedented experiment in citizen governance of a coastal area. Its charge was to bring local, tribal, state, community, organizational, and citizen interests together to protect and restore the marine environment. Each MRC is citizen-based and includes representatives from commercial, recreational, scienti. c, educational, and environmental interests, as well as local and tribal governments. Performance benchmarks help partners guide project development and evaluate success.

Congress required a program review after five years. In 2004, a panel of national experts found the Initiative to be an excellent investment. "In these first five years, the Initiative has accomplished valuable research and restoration projects and has established a strong foundation of mechanisms, relationships and capacity," said William Ruckelshaus, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and chair of the panel.

Examples of Key Partners

Northwest Straits Commission, seven Washington Counties, Puget Sound Action Team, Washington Sea Grant Program, Northwest Washington Treaty Tribes, Washington State Departments of Ecology, Fish & Wildlife Service and Natural Resources, U.S. Congress (authorizing body), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Community-based Restoration Program, and others.

Results and Accomplishments
  • Shoreline habitats have been surveyed and mapped in all seven counties.
  • The Commission developed state policy to encourage reporting of lost or abandoned fishing gear, wrote protocols for safe gear removal, and initiated a derelict gear removal project that has pulled miles of gillnets, purse-seine nets, and hundreds of derelict crab pots from Northwest Straits marine waters.
  • More than 275 volunteers surveyed and mapped 4,600 beaches, discovering 32.5 miles of potential spawning habitat for forage fish needed by salmon, marine fish, birds, and marine mammals. Maps were distributed to government agencies.
  • Volunteers in three MRC planted Olympia oysters in tidelands around the region to help restore this tiny native oyster.
  • All seven MRC work with and advise their county governments on marine resource issues and host regular outreach meetings with the public. 

The first citizen-based framework for restoring, conserving, and governing a major US coastal area.

Project Contact
Tom Cowan
Northwest Straits Commission
10441 Bayview-Edison Rd
Mt Vernon, 98273
(360) 428-1085


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