Does an American sports tycoon own the fish in two B.C. lakes? Or are they wild fish?
That was one of the questions before Justice Joel Groves in a B.C. Supreme Court case pitting the Douglas Lake Cattle Company against the Nicola Fish and Game Club and the B.C. government.
The DLCC wanted the judge to uphold its claim that it owned Stoney Lake Road and Minnie and Stoney Lakes in the B.C. Interior. The company is owned by Stan Kroenke, who bought the 58,000-hectare ranch in 2003 from disgraced telcom executive Bernard Ebbers.
In a December 7 ruling, Groves concluded that the fish are "feral beings".
As such, Groves added, they are "wild fish", ruling in favour of the Merritt-based fish and game club and the government.
"The act of releasing fish into a public body of water vitiates any claim of ownership by DLCC over the fish," the judge wrote. "I find the fish in the lakes are public fish."
Kroenke's net worth was pegged this year at US$8.5 billion by Forbes magazine. He owns the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Avalanche sports franchises and is married to an heiress to the Walmart fortune.
The company alleged that Stoney Lake was "nothing more than an ephemeral pond, which comes and goes on occasion". That contradicted evidence provided by Aboriginal witnesses who described both lakes as "natural fishing grounds".
The company also maintained that it could control the fish because of geo-engineering that it had conducted, which prevented them from escaping.
However, Groves ruled that this contradicted what was viewed by the court on a site visit.
"There was clear evidence of fish escaping from Stoney Lake and coincidentally, there was clear evidence of very recent amendments to the fish-blocking techniques around the lakes," he noted. "Nothing turns on that because, as I find that the act of releasing fish into government water, into a lake that is primarily public, and the act of those fish feeding and growing through the natural process in government water, prohibits any assertion of ownership."
Groves also ruled that Stoney Lake Road is a "public road", and that there is public access to both lakes.More