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That pound of frozen shrimp at the grocery store, it’s probably from Thailand. What most people don’t know is the shrimp were not harvested from the Andaman Sea. They were most likely grown at a shrimp farm. Equally unknown is that Thailand shrimp farms are part of a burgeoning industry called aquaculture — and they need lawyers. According to an October 2003 report from Business Communications Co., Inc., the total worldwide aquaculture market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 7.3 percent from $65.9 billion in 2003 to $93.7 billion in 2008. In the U.S., it’s an almost $1 billion business annually. At least one Connecticut attorney is well aware of the potential cash cod, and has forged a prominent role in the growing industry. Robinson & Cole partner W. Richard Smith Jr., as an advisor to the National Association of Aquaculture, has counseled industry leaders on legislation and regulations before Congress. He is also a former member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Committee On Fisheries, which met on aquaculture issues in Norway last year. Smith, who works in the firm’s Hartford office, participated as a member of the U.S. delegation with representatives from the U.S. State and Commerce departments. “I was the U.S. industry representative. Although it may sound a bit detached from local practice issues, efforts taken at the international level often translate to national initiatives by members’ countries,” he said. Smith, while known nationally for his work, does have local clients. The most prominent is the Mohegan Tribe’s aquaculture company. The tribe was the first entity to open a large scale, multiple production aquaculture business in Connecticut, and Smith secured regulatory approval for its facilities between Niantic and Stonington. SMALL CROWD By his own estimate, Smith is one of less than 100 lawyers in the country who practices aquaculture law. He devotes a third of his time to it. (The rest of his practice is environmental law.) In Connecticut, Smith said, Robinson & Cole is the only law firm dealing with aquaculture matters. It also has clients in Virginia and North Carolina. “It’s a pretty small group of people dealing with these kind of issues regularly,” he said. Aquaculture is not a widely practiced area of law, in spite of its annual sales, because a diverse, widespread group partakes in it. Smith said the industry, which is more than just catfish, trout, salmon and oysters, is currently made up of a lot of small, family-owned operations, similar to what farming was decades ago. As farming has evolved since the 1930s to become dominated by large commercial operations, so will aquaculture. “There are clearly a range of scales of these production facilities from ‘mom & pop’ to multimillion-dollar facilities,” he said. The Department of Commerce is pushing the industry’s growth to $5 billion in annual sales. Smith said, “We’re not going to be able to do it with freshwater facilities alone.” He has helped draft comments before the DOC and other federal agencies regarding the development of exclusive economic zones up to three miles off the shores of the U.S. “As it develops and we have a greater number of large facilities, they’re going to find a greater deal of regulatory issues they’ll have to address,” he said. John R. MacMillan, president of the National Aquaculture Association (NAA), said Smith knows more than government attorneys on some issues. “His understanding of the regulations appear to be really good,” MacMillan said. “You don’t get the impression that some of the federal people have that depth of understanding … that Richard does. He brings that thoroughness and understanding to the table.” Betsy Hart, executive director of the NAA in Charles Town, Va., calls Smith an “invaluable” resource. “He can take a Federal Register notice, read it, and see all the implications immediately. As far as his knowledge goes, no one can touch him. He has gained the respect not only of the industry, but government staff as well.” Hart deals with a broad cross section of lawyers on this issue. “I’ve run into some other lawyers that have assisted in the permitting process, but I’ve never talked to anyone that has [Smith's] grasp of the regulatory environment.” MATTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY For the Department of Homeland Security, aquaculture has become a national security issue. The government wants American consumers to lessen their reliance on foreign-grown seafood. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, there is a $6 billion annual U.S. trade deficit in seafood. “The great majority of our aquaculture fish is from overseas,” Smith noted. “We import 400 million pounds of salmon and a billion pounds of shrimp annually.” It’s also become a food security issue for the Federal Department of Agriculture. It wants to prevent breakouts similar to Mad Cow disease. The FDA’s goal is to monitor each step of the aquaculture process so it can determine problems in production. “There are a lot of food security issues being thought about in Washington these days,” Smith noted. Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL as it is commonly known in the industry, is another hot issue in aquaculture. Every piece of fish a consumer buys after September 2004 will have information on where the fish is from, where it was raised and how it was harvested. “If you bought fingerlings from Norway and grew them here, you’ll have to make the distinction,” Smith said. Currently, the label could say the fish was from the United States. “A lot of people think of that as a food quality, food security program [while] the folks in the government are thinking of it as a consumer-information program,” Smith said. Smith enjoys being a pioneer in the field. “As the industry starts to mature and engage in more issues and regulatory matters, there are new challenges,” he said. “And that’s interesting and rewarding. It’s interesting to develop a relationship with an expanding industry. There are always new issues.” MacMillan, from the NAA, praised Smith’s relationship with the industry. “He has a keen interest in the development of the NAA in the United States. He shares our frustration with the bureaucracy and its management of aquaculture.” Plus, MacMillan added, Smith does it for free. He donates his services as advisor to the NAA.

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