Fish stocks and solar panels
 EWCA Civ 578
Fish stocks in a commercial fishery were classified as wild animals, which could not be the subject of ownership. The seller’s rights to the fish arose as a result of its ownership of the land on which the lakes were situated and accordingly passed on the transfer of that land.
Solar panels were fixtures, which passed automatically on the sale of the land to which they were attached, in the particular circumstances of the case, having regard not only to the degree but also to the purpose of the annexation.
B owned a commercial fishery, which included nine man-made lakes and pools. The defendant (CW) bought the land from B acting by an LPA receiver. The sale contract did not address the fish stocks in the lakes or the solar panels at the site. B argued that it was, at all material times, the owner of the fish and the solar panels.
Did CW own the fish stocks and/or the solar panels?
Decision on appeal
The Court of Appeal (LJ Peter Jackson, LJ Rose and Sir Timothy Lloyd) unanimously allowed the appeal, holding that the fish passed to the purchaser’s ownership on sale.
Their reasoning was as follows:
- All fish have always been classed as wild (as opposed to domestic) animals, despite the fact that the fish in this case had never lived in the wild and were not free to escape from the lakes.
- It was not open to the court to alter this "long established classification of animals" and to regard certain fish as domestic – any change to the classification would require legislation.
- Wild animals cannot be the subject of ownership. The seller’s rights to the fish arose solely as a result of its ownership of the lakes in which the fish were located and its ability to prevent the fish from escaping, and accordingly those rights came to an end on the transfer of the land. If the seller had wanted to be able to enter the land after the sale and do anything in respect of the fish, the seller would have had to reserve rights accordingly in the transfer.
It is useful to have a decided case on the nature of fish stocks in a commercial fishery. So far as solar panels are concerned, it should be noted that not all solar panels are fixtures – it depends, as stated above, not only on the degree of annexation but also the purpose of the annexation.
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