Caught in the act
Published on January 16, 2015
Officers do the groundwork even in seemingly simple cases, ruling proves
Early one morning last summer, a man was standing on the beach at a lake on the province’s west coast holding an Atlantic salmon in his hand.
Two fishery guardians walked twoard him, and the man tossed the salmon into the water.
Keeping a salmon caught from George’s Lake is against the law, but William Cross said he had no intention of keeping it.
Cross — who was estimated to be between 15 and 20 feet from the water — saw the guardians approaching about 7:30 a.m. that July 4 day and immediately tossed the salmon he was holding back into the lake.
You’d think it would be straight-forward case of being caught in the act.
After being charged by the guardians with illegal possession of salmon, Cross took the case to trial, acting in his own defence.
Earlier this week at provincial court in Corner Brook, Judge Wayne Gorman convicted Cross, saying “the only rational conclusion to be drawn from the evidence is that Mr. Cross caught a salmon and intended to keep it. … Based upon the manner in which Mr. Cross was holding the salmon and his throwing of it into the water upon seeing the fishery guardians proves that he intended to keep the salmon and that he would have done so except for the arrival of the fishery guardians.”
The case shows, however, that fishery guardians — even though their visual observations of Cross were compelling evidence — had to carry out further investigation in case Cross exercised his right to fight the charge in court, as he did.
In Gorman’s decision, he notes the other evidence provided by the guardians.
The guardians recorded their observation that Cross was holding the salmon by its gills — a method likely to kill it. After Cross tossed the salmon back into the water, one guardian located it and determined it was near death and thus, as per their training and duties, tried to resuscitate it, but was unsuccessful.
The salmon also had “a significant number of scales missing and … there was a path of salmon scales from the water’s edge to where they had seen Mr. Cross holding the salmon,” Gorman’s decision reads.
The guardians also took a number of photographs which show the salmon and scales on the beach, all presented as evidence in the trial.
The case shows how diligent all fish and wildlife enforcement officers in the province have to be when gathering evidence to support charges — and charges were up 36 per cent in 2014.
According to a news release from the Department of Justice and Public Safety, about 1,200 charges were laid in 2014, up 36 per cent from 2013. The offences ranged from fishing and hunting violations to the unsafe use of firearms and improper use of all-terrain vehicles.
In Cross’s case, Gorman found the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had possession of a salmon in an area in which retention of a caught salmon is prohibited.
“In this case Mr. Cross caught a salmon, took it out of the water, had a hold of it by its gills and threw it back into the water immediately upon seeing the fishery guardians,” Gorman stated.
“A trail of scales extended from the water line to where Mr. Cross was standing. What does all of this prove?
“It proves that Mr. Cross caught a salmon and intended to keep it.”