By Richard Black
BBC News website environment correspondent
The new programme aims to preserve sustainable fisheries
A coalition of environmental and development agencies has launched a new programme which aims to stem the loss of fish stocks worldwide.
The Profish programme will compile a global list of illegal fishing vessels, promote sustainable aquaculture and help protect marine reserves.
It could also reduce the extent of legal fishing by European boats in African waters.
Profish was launched at the Fish for All Summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
There are no reliable global estimates either for the economic value of illegal fishing, or for the amount of environmental damage it does.
But there is general agreement at government level that it is a serious issue, which is why the Council of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) adopted in 2001 the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.
The logic behind Profish is that information is key to reducing the impact and extent of illegal activities.
"There has been considerable work over the last few years to track illegal fishing," the World Bank's Director of Environment Warren Evans told the BBC News website.
"Although large vessels receive a lot of attention, in fact small-scale operations at local level are causing extensive ecological damage, by harming coral reefs, spawning grounds and so on; basically these boats exploit every stock they can."
The process of compiling the rogues' register will be led by IUCN, the World Conservation Union, which joins the World Bank, FAO, and other conservation bodies in launching Profish, with an initial investment of just over US$1m from Iceland, France, Norway, Finland and the World Bank's development facility.
Profish will also develop a "small-scale fisheries toolkit", which will show fishing communities how to manage stocks in a sustainable yet profitable way.
It also aims to develop estimates of "resource rent loss" for developing countries - the amounts of money they are losing by not managing fisheries for sustained production.
Fish is a vital food in many parts of Africa, and in other developing countries, supplying protein and micronutrients such as zinc, calcium and vitamin A.
But at the opening of the Abuja conference, held under the auspices of the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad), the research organisation WorldFish Center warned that stocks in Africa are being depleted rapidly, with the availability of fish as a food within the continent declining.
A 20% increase in fish farming, it said, would be needed to maintain consumption at current levels.
Among environment and development groups, there is concern at the quantities of fish which vessels from developed nations, especially those belonging to the European Union, are catching legally in African coastal waters.
As quotas limit catches in EU waters, European vessels head south
Off the coast of west Africa, the annual catch of EU boats increased 20-fold between 1950 and 2001, alongside rising levels of subsidy from European governments.
"Profish may be relevant to this issue," acknowledged Warren Evans.
"It may be that European nations will have to look at their levels of subsidy."
The first tranche of Profish activities, including the database of illegal vessels, should be up and running within three years.