Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, January 9, 2021

The salmon are coming back!

The salmon are coming back! The salmon are coming back! 

            Where’s Paul Revere when we need him? 

            Last year, a fish ladder, left inoperable after the Penticton dam at the foot of Okanagan Lake was built in the 1950s, was restored by the Okanagan Nation Alliance and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. For the first time in 60 years, sockeye salmon ascended from the Columbia River into Okanagan Lake. 

            At the same time, kokanee socks are rebounding. 

            Kokanee are land-locked salmon. Unlike their sockeye cousins, they don’t go down to the sea. They spend their lives in lakes. Some spawn along the shorelines; some return to the lakes’ tributary streams, just like the ocean-going salmon. 

            A small item in the regional newspaper reported that an estimated 388,000 kokanee had spawned this year, either in streams or along the shoreline. That’s more than double last year’s 185,000. Better yet, it’s more than double the ten-year average.

            That’s still a far cry from the times when the kokanee run on Mission Creek – according to oral tradition – made the river “run red”. 

            The Okanagan Fisheries Foundation notes that “once-huge kokanee runs.. have declined enormously.” Dams and weirs have blocked runs. Flood control efforts in Mission Creek reduced spawning by over 70%. 

            And a misguided attempt to increase kokanee stocks introduced mysis shrimp to the lake in the 1960s. The consensus now is that the shrimp, rather than supplementing the kokanee diet, competed for it. 

            “The spawning population was around a million adults,” says Piscine Energetics president Nuri Fisher. “But after they introduced mysis, it crashed completely; the kokanee were starving.”

            More recently, the tide has turned in favour of kokanee. Better planning for lowering lake levels, in preparation for spring runoff, has protected shore spawners. Habitat reclamation has restored streambeds. Forestry controls have reduced flooding and silting. 

            So the kokanee are back. 


Not as a means to an end

            I expect that almost everyone will cheer these results. I’d like to know why. 

            It may be – I hope – because people have a sense of identity with nature. They want to see the natural environment functioning as it used to, before too many humans fouled it up. 

            They want to experience the awe of watching salmon obsessively thrash their way upstream over rocks and gravel bars, to give birth to a new generation.

            That’s certainly the attraction of Roderick Haig-Brown park on the Adams River, probably the best-known salmon spawning run in the province. 

            The Adams River run brings thousands of paying tourists to the Shuswap region. 

            Does the return of kokanee runs simply mean more tourist dollars?

            I hope it’s not just because there’s a commercial benefit. 

            There has never been a commercial kokanee fishery on Okanagan Lake – although I’m told that some of the Japanese families used gill nets along the shore for a time. 

            Ironically, the lake does have a commercial fishery now -- netting mysis shrimp for pet food. 

            The lake’s sport fishery has a significant commercial value. An Okanagan Water Board publication estimated that sport fishing generated $21.5 million a year. 

            Bluntly put, then, are salmon simply a means to an end? A benefit to our industries, our revenues?

            I hope not.


Valued in their own right

            I will probably be accused of being hopelessly idealistic for arguing that the salmon deserve to be celebrated simply because of who they are. 

            This has nothing to do with educational programs. Nor with fishing. Nor with tourism. 

            Salmon deserve to exist simply because they are here. Like trees and magpies, they don’t exist for ours benefit. 

            To my mind, the most dangerous verses in the Bible come at the end of the first Creation story in Genesis 1:26-30.  God gives humans “dominion” – as the King James version puts it; other translations say “power” or “control” – over all plant and animal life, to do whatever we damn well want with it, for our own purposes. 

            Those four verses, I submit, have provided justification for cutting forests, building dams, spouting pollutants, spraying defoliants, burning oil, slaughtering animals, and paving meadows – because God told us to go ahead and do it. 

            Let’s be consistent. If God created life, then every form of life is sacred. Holy. Valued for its own sake. 

            Equally, if life came into being some other way, if life has evolved so that it made human life possible, then every form of life should also be valued for its own sake. Held sacred. Holy.  Entirely aside from what it’s worth to us economically.

            Either way, the return of salmon to our shores and streams is cause for celebration. 


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Last week’s column about coercive conversion therapy drew a number of letters, including several in the paper wher the column is published. I can’t copy them here, because they weren’t sent to me. But if I can draw a theme from them, they thought that I was opposed to conversion, denying the right of people to change their minds and their beliefs. They missed the coercive angle completely. 

            Maybe that’s my fault. 

            So let me be clear. I have no objection to evangelizing for a different viewpoint; I do it myself. I have no objection to conversion experiences: I’ve had several myself. What I object to is coercive change, change forced onto a person either by psychological tactics or by social pressure. 

            Coercion is always wrong, even if it’s done in the name of God. 


James Russell called it “Excellent piece, Jim, which I will shortly be sending along to my MP as a reminder to get the job done.”


Tom Watson agreed with me, and more: “Conversion therapy is criminal coercion. You are also right in saying that our hands are not clean. Our history is riddled with examples of where the dominant segments of society attempt to ‘straighten’ others out and be like they think they should be. A glaring example is our historical mistreatment of First Nations people, and our attempts to make them conform to the norms we have deemed appropriate.”


Keith Simmonds had “A family member who was subjected to this process (Conversion) by his church. I’m not sure about the torture elements in his case, but I do know he was turned away from faith because of their religious practice, their definition of him as ‘unbeloved’. Fortunately he remains a dedicated advocate and ally for justice and right relationship. Just not a Christian one.

            “I wonder too about the ‘cult’ we are grown in. The belief system that supports a world capitalist system consuming the world we inhabit. Consuming us too. How then shall we convert from this?”


Isabel Gibson had a note of caution: “I'm onboard 110% about banning any form of conversion therapy, but some thoughtful people have concerns about Bill C-6 in what they say is its conflation of sexual orientation and gender dysphoria, and Minister Lametti's refusal to make amendments to make explicit what he says are the implicit exemptions for religious and parental counselling.

            “As an editor who has worked for 25+ years in the ‘contracts space’ and knows just how easy it is for disagreements of interpretation to arise, I'd like our laws to be explicit, rather than relying on what a given Minister offers as their opinion about a law's intent.”


Frank Martens felt that he himself had been a victim: “Having been the recipient of ‘conversion therapy’ from grades 1 to 10, until I discharged myself, I certainly can attest to the harm it does to a person at the time.  The ‘conversion’ I’m referring to happened in the religious schools I attended as a youngster.  Every school day I was under pressure to become ‘saved.’  The more I resisted, the more the pressure to conform.  I guess I was just born a stubborn child.  But, meanwhile, some of the classmates had little to do with this non-believer, which apparently may have something to do with my somewhat introverted personality. However, I know I’m right.  Even though this conversion didn’t work on me, it still allowed me to succeed where many of my classmates ended up leading a cloistered and unenviable life.” 


And Steve Roney felt I had been “misinformed regarding Bill C-6. You seem to think it has to do with coercion, to practices done ‘against a person’s will.’ This, if you think about it, cannot be correct. That would already be a serious crime: kidnapping. There would be no need for any such new law.

            “Rather, it bans conversion therapy as such: ‘a practice that seeks to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual, to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviours, or to change an individual's gender identity to match the sex they were assigned at birth.’ 

            “This is discriminatory: it bars homosexuals from a service they might desire, and not only for religious reasons. Think about it from their perspective: any homosexual is in an unenviable position. It is hard enough for any of us to find a partner. The constant rejection, the constant unrequited eros, must be crippling to one’s self-image and emotional well-being.

            “It also opens any religious group to prosecution and suppression for preaching that homosexual sex is sinful, and that one should resist such temptations. Doesn’t this make religion per se a ‘service that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation’?”


Finally, James West sent a note of appreciation to other letter writers: “I was going to write last week. I was so glad your readers wrote what I was going to write. 

            “I think that it may happen again this week.”






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                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, you might check my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry. Recently I posted a handful of haiku, something I was experimenting with. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.




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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Salmon, Kokanee, environment



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