Capilano Fishing Ltd. v. Qualicum Producer (The)

In Fish Cases, Fisheries Practice, Torts on (Updated )

This was a net damage case involving a claim for damages incurred by a vessel when its net was fouled by another vessel during a very short opening in the 1997 herring seine fishery. The issues raised by this case included the following:

1)Recovery for contractual relational economic loss;
2)Limitation of Liability;
3)Restitution for unjust enrichment with an accounting of profits earned by the defendants;
4)Punitive damages;and
5)Quantification of damages.

At the trial level, Warren J. applied the former provisions of the s. 574 of the Canada Shipping Act to allow the defendants to limit their liability to approximately $40,000 dollars.

Although damages were limited to $40,000, the trial court also addressed the issue of how damages should be quantified.

With respect to unjust enrichment, the trial judge applied the reasons of Lowry J. in the “Cape Flattery” (1 December 1997) Vancouver C953623 (B.C.S.C.) to reject this claim. With respect of quantification of the loss of fish, the court based its award upon the daily average of the vessels fishing in the area. In doing so, the court said “[f]rom time immemorial fish have been among the more elusive of prey. The only certain catch is the one stored on board.”

The trial court also rejected the claim for punitive damages.

With respect to contractual relation economic loss, the trial court followed the decision of Lowry J. in the “Cape Flattery” to allow the claim of members of a fishing pool who had an interest in the catch of the plaintiff vessel. However, it rejected the claim of a fish processor, which had supplied a licence to the plaintiff vessel at a discounted rate in exchange for the right to purchase its catch.

Upon appeal, the decision was varied as set out below.

With respect to limitation of liability, the court reversed the trial court and prevented the defendants from limiting their liability. In doing so, it adopted the following quote from Lowry J. in Savage Fisher (The) v. Prosperity (The) (2000) 78 B.C.L.R. (1124) (B.C.S.C.):

I would have considered that the owner or the charterer of a vessel that participates in a shotgun herring opening must be privy to damage to the property of others its vessel may cause. I say that because of the nature of the activity. As indicated at the outset, large trawlers are operated in a high stakes competition for fish which forces them to maneuver (sic) at speed in close proximity. Masters are encouraged to catch as much herring as they can in what is most often a very short period of time. . . It is an activity where an owner’s instruction to exercise caution, end even to put safety first, must for all practical purposes be lost in the priority of making a large catch. As I said at the outset, it is a most unusual kind of maritime adventure,one that compels masters to sacrifice good seamanship for profit as happened in this case. [para. 51]

. . . I have difficulty seeing on what basis an owner or charterer that engages its vessel in that activity could meet the standard of care required to be permitted the privilege of limiting its liability. [para. 52]

With respect to quantification of damages, instead of basing it award on the daily average as did the trial court, the court made a larger award based upon ½ of the amount caught by the offending vessel. In doing so, the court considered the maxim omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatorem (all things presumed against a wrongdoer) as well as the fact that “[f]rom time immemorial fish have been among the more elusive of prey. The only certain catch is the one stored on board” (para. 36).

With respect to the claim of a fish processor for the value of a herring licence given to the claimants at a discounted price in exchange for a promise by the claimants to sell their catch to the fish processor, the court was unable to find any evidence to support the claim, as the processor had led no evidence regarding its profits. The court also cautioned that it did “not wish to be taken as holding that such a claim for economic loss would lie” (para. 50).

With respect to the claim based on unjust enrichment, the court said “actions for negligence in the operation of vessels are actions for compensation for losses caused. There is no need to complicate such actions with notions of unjust enrichment” (para. 49). Similiarly, with respect to the claim for punitive damages the court said, “it is not for this Court to introduce into maritime law a concept which is unknown to it” (para. 49).