Fishery Councils Encourage Curbs

On Bottom Trawling Along East Coast

The Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management councils have voted to ban bottom trawling in two major deep-sea coral canyons off Nantucket and to restrict the trawling gear off the coast from New York to North Carolina. If approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, it would mark the first time the fishing authorities have imposed such limits, which would take effect in May.

The canyons are prime ground for catching popular monkfish.

Fisheries Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said the agency "endorses protections for fragile marine life such as deep-sea corals, and this action is a good example of the councils taking proactive steps to address important conservation needs." She said once federal officials receive the councils' proposals, they would solicit public comment as part of a regular rulemaking process.

Federal fishery councils have frequently resisted imposing fishing limits in the name of habitat preservation, but some members have been swayed by recent studies that have shown corals can help sustain healthy fisheries. Bottom trawling can devastate the sea floor: a survey done by a submersible in September 2001 found that trawling had reduced to rubble 90 percent of ocean-floor coral habitat of an area called Oculina, off Florida, which was home to abundant grouper and ivory tree coral in the 1970s, leaving 20 acres intact.

David Allison, a fisheries expert at the marine advocacy group Oceana, said Wednesday's vote by the Mid-Atlantic Council "shows that good science can lead to good policies that protect the ocean and its wildlife, while allowing fishermen to continue to fish."

Drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis

May Increase Risk for Blood Cancer

Johnson & Johnson is warning doctors that patients taking its rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade may have a higher risk of lymphoma, a blood cancer, the company said yesterday.

The warning will be added to the drug's package insert and means the drug's safety profile will more closely match that of rival drugs in the same class, Amgen Inc.'s Enbrel and Abbott Laboratories Inc.'s Humira.

The label will warn of a threefold increase in the risk for rheumatoid arthritis patients taking the drug compared with the normal population, said Michael Parks, a spokesman for Centocor, the J&J unit that markets Remicade.

J&J said it would send a letter to doctors on Monday informing them of the danger.

It will be the second time in three months that Remicade's label has been changed to reflect safety concerns that are already listed in the prescribing information for the rival drugs.

In August, J&J changed its label to add the risk of certain blood-related disorders such as leukopenia, in which the white blood cell count is too low, and thrombocytopenia, when blood platelets are too low.

"This just spotlights the fact that there is no long-term safety data on this class of drugs, and it's not clear what else is going to come out of the closet," said Henry Dummett, an analyst at World Markets Research Centre.

Enbrel, Remicade and Humira are members of a class of drugs that block an inflammation-causing protein called tumor necrosis factor. They have been among the most successful of all biotechnology drugs.

-- From Staff Reports and News Services