Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) is a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) founded in 1979.  NAFO's overall purpose is to help its members work together and share knowledge to effectively manage and conserve the high seas fishery resources of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

The NAFO Convention Area encompasses a large portion of the North Atlantic Ocean and includes the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of coastal States jurisdiction (Canada, Denmark in respect of Greenland, France in respect of St. Pierre et Miquelon and USA). However, regulatory action by NAFO is limited to those parts of the Convention Area beyond areas of national jurisdiction. This is called the Regulatory Area.

NAFO Management

NAFO management covers most fishery resources in the Northwest Atlantic except salmon, tunas/marlins, whales, and sedentary species (e.g. snow crab, lobster and various clams). NAFO covers the following straddling stocks: cod in NAFO division(s) 3NO, redfish in 3LN and 3O, American plaice in 3LNO, yellowtail flounder in 3LNO, witch flounder in 3L and 3NO, white hake in 3NO, capelin in 3NO, skates in 3NO, Greenland halibut in 3LMNO, squid in sub-areas 3 & 4, and shrimp in 3L.

In addition, NAFO manages discrete stocks on the Flemish Cap, cod in the 3M zone, redfish, American plaice and shrimp.

NAFO also shares management with the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) of the oceanic redfish stock that is found in the Convention Areas waters of both RFMOs.


NAFO currently comprises 12 Contracting Parties:

  • Canada,
  • Cuba,
  • Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland),
  • European Union,
  • France (in respect of Saint Pierre et Miquelon),
  • Iceland,
  • Japan,
  • Republic of Korea,
  • Norway,
  • Russian Federation,
  • Ukraine,
  • United States of America.

The Secretariat (NAFO headquarters) is located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ecosystem Approach

NAFO is committed to an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. NAFO's management includes provisions that minimize the harmful impact of fishing activities on living marine resources and marine ecosystems, and requirements that preserve marine bio-diversity. Its work protecting sensitive deepwater habitats such as seamounts and corals is one example of this. Supporting scientific research and advice is a major part of NAFO's mandate.


NAFO has achieved some important milestones to become a strong, modern, and effective RFMO.

NAFO has:

  • advanced the application of the precautionary and ecosystem approaches in the management of fisheries;
  • strengthened its monitoring, control and surveillance systems; and
  • enhanced the transparency of the organization.

As a result, the compliance of fishing vessels with NAFO regulations has visibly increased, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has decreased, and some fish stocks are already showing signs of recovery. However, in spite of the modern approaches to fisheries management, the abundance of many traditional NAFO fish stocks continues to be low, an indication that the rebuilding process will take time.

Canada continues to take a leadership role in NAFO.

Annual meeting

NAFO's 2015 Annual Meeting was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from September 21-25, 2015. At the meeting, Canada's priority was to ensure continued economic benefits for Canadian fish harvesters through the conservation and sustainable use of NAFO regulated fish stocks.

Of significance for Canada, the NAFO Scientific Council advice indicated that the stock for 3NO Witch flounder continues to rebuild after this fishery was reopened in 2015. NAFO Members agreed to increase the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) from 1000t in 2015 to 2172t for 2016 and 2225t for 2017. Canada welcomed this decision, which will have direct benefits for Canadian harvesters as Canada has the largest share of this stock in NAFO

In line with scientific advice and the management plan for the stock, the TAC for Greenland halibut was reduced by five percent for 2015, from 15,578 tonnes to 14,799 tonnes.

At the meeting, NAFO agreed to strengthen measures to protect Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) by closing seamounts to bottom-contact fishing. NAFO also took further steps to improve catch reporting of NAFO stocks. This will help inform scientists as they conduct stock assessments. For more details on the meeting, please refer to the NAFO Press Release (PDF 881,16 KB).

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