The Convention on Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, signed on 24 October 1978 in Ottawa, came into force on 1 January 1979 following the deposit with the Government of Canada the instruments of ratification, acceptance and approval by its then seven signatories: Canada, Cuba, the European Economic Community (EEC), German Democratic Republic (GDR), Iceland, Norway, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This Convention, establishing the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), replaced the 1949 International Convention for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF). Currently NAFO has twelve Contracting Parties: Canada, Cuba, Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), European Union, France (in respect of St. Pierre and Miquelon), Iceland, Japan, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United States of America.
The objective of this Convention is to ensure the long term conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources in the Convention Area and, in so doing, to safeguard the marine ecosystems in which these resources are found.
The constituent bodies of NAFO are: the Commission, Scientific Council and the Secretariat, of which the specific functions are set out in the Convention and the Rules of Procedure.
The Convention has been amended four times, on 1 January 1980, on 9 October 1987, on 13 September 1996 and on 18 May 2017. The first three sets of amendments modified some of the boundaries of Subareas, Divisions and Subdivisions of the Convention Area contained in Annex I of the Convention. The fourth (18 May 2017) set of amendments were comprehensive, designed to modernize NAFO, particularly by incorporating an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. The fourth set of amendments also streamlined NAFO’s decision-making process, strengthened the obligations of Contracting Parties, flag States and port States, and instituted a formal dispute settlement mechanism.