BRUSSELS – EU ministers on Tuesday ended more than 15 years of argument over how to curb overfishing in the Mediterranean and prevent a string of species, including swordfish and octopus, from disappearing from its waters. Species such as hake, swordfish, octopus and sardines, favorites on Mediterranean dinner tables, are on the danger list due to years of chronic overfishing. More exotic species such as the musky and horned octopus and spiny lobster are also threatened and catches have slumped since the mid-1990s. In the Adriatic and strait of Sicily, catches for some species are 60 percent lower than they were 20 years ago. The EU deal tightens rules on types of permitted fishing tackle and also sets out gradual increases in mesh sizes for the next few years to prevent fishermen from catching young fish that could reproduce. Much Mediterranean fishing is practiced close to coastlines due to the narrowness of the sea’s continental shelf, and this is where younger fish tend to congregate. Trawlers will have to maintain a minimum distance from coastal zones that are habitats for sensitive wildlife and fish, although Italy managed to secure an exemption and may go closer to shore. There will also be minimum catch volumes for certain species, to discourage immature fish from being Urgent protection Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Greece fish in the Mediterranean, as do EU newcomers Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia. France was the only country to abstain in the ministers’ final vote, while all other national delegations voted in favor. The EU last tried to agree on new rules for Mediterranean fishing in September 2005. But the deal was scuppered by France and Italy, which complained of the threat to local industries whose livelihoods depend on small-scale fishing. »The proposal was intensely debated by all sides over the last three years. We all agree that Mediterranean stocks need urgent protection,» EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told a news conference. The EU says it cannot save Mediterranean fish stocks from collapse on its own, since the region is an international fishing zone that is bordered by many other non-EU countries. More than 100,000 fishermen make their living from the Mediterranean, using mostly small boats, and there is much recreational fishing.