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Samish Nation endorses marine protected area

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. - Samish Indian Nation officials visited their ancestral home of San Juan Island on Jan. 27 to endorse the designation of San Juan County waters as a Marine Stewardship Area.

Members of the county Marine Resources Committee signed a proclamation establishing the stewardship area. The stewardship area was developed by the county Marine Resources Committee and adopted by the San Juan County Commission.

The Marine Stewardship Area is not regulatory. It recognizes federal, state and regional regulations already in place regarding fishing, shoreline development, boating and other activities.

The Marine Resources Committee, or MRC, wants to use those regulations to raise public awareness of local threats to marine life and what protections are out there. The MRC also wants to engage islanders in identifying additional marine protection goals - and levels of voluntary or regulatory protections needed to meet those goals.

The MRC is an advisory board - it makes recommendations to the County Commission regarding protecting the marine environment. But with a Marine Stewardship Area in place, the MRC may have expanded influence in making regulatory recommendations to the County Commission, according to Tom Cowan of the Northwest Straits Commission, which assists the region's seven MRCs.

The Samish Indian Nation, which is based in Anacortes, Wash., is involved in restoring the health of the county's waters. Samish biologists are meeting with property owners to identify island creeks that historically may have been used by salmon; Samish will work with local property owners to restore historic salmon creeks. The MRC endorsed the project, which led to funding from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Samish Nation council members Chris DeKay, Billie Jo Settle and Lisa Weber presented to the County Commission a resolution applauding the creation of a Marine Stewardship Area, and a plaque depicting the circle of life.

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"The ancestors of the Samish people devoted themselves for millennia to the understanding, love and care of the marine resources of the islands and marine waters that formed their homeland," DeKay said, reading the Samish proclamation.

The Samish Nation is committed to "working cooperatively with the County and the residents of the islands to realize our shared vision of a healthy, productive marine environment for the generations to come."

County Commissioner Rhea Miller responded, "We consider you our partners."

San Juan Island was the traditional fishing, hunting, trading and gathering place for the Lummi, Saanich, Samish, Semiahmoo, Songhees and Sooke. It was also home to the Mitchell Bay Band, a federally non-recognized tribe.

The MRC committed itself early on to involving area tribes in protecting local waters and marine life.

"We will seek to include indigenous knowledge and traditions both for developing the broad outlines of our proposals as well as for specific implementation actions," the MRC wrote last year in a proposal for a Marine Protected Area; the committee opted for a Marine Stewardship Area.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at