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.