an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

Mind Over Matter - Fishing For Answers
By Caroline Crawford




Professor Doug Facey is deeply into Lake Champlain’s ecology
Every angler who’s ever dropped a line into a lake, river, stream or ocean has some kind of fish tale to tell. Doug Facey, Professor of Biology and an expert in fish communities and water quality, has plenty. But when he talks about fish, it’s not about the big one that got away, but about some of the smallest and least known fish in the lake, and the quality of the water in which they live.

Facey has taught biology at Saint Michael’s since 1990. His research, which he conducts with students, includes work with sand darters and channel darters, whose habitat includes just a few rivers in Vermont, and yellow perch and invasive white perch and their diets. With Facey, Jeff White ’08 is researching the effects of the presence of non-native white perch, which arrived in the lake through the Champlain Canal and are now abundant. White and Facey’s research, which has been funded with a grant from the John C. Hartnett Endowment in 2006 and the Lake Champlain Research Consortium in 2007, explores the impact of white perch on the food chain, whether they are competing with other species.

Facey’s relationship with Lake Champlain began as a child, when the Levittown, New York resident (“the quintessential Long Island suburb,” he says) and his family vacationed on the Mississquoi Bay in northwestern Vermont for several years. In a lakefront cabin for two weeks, Facey fished every day and “liked it a lot.” After earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maine—Orono, he returned to Vermont for his master’s degree at UVM, where he learned more about the lake’s ecology. After earning his PhD at the University of Georgia and then working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and teaching at Erskine University, he returned to Vermont in 1991 to teach at Saint Michael’s. He was very happy, he says, to come back to the lake.

In Vermont, Facey became the Saint Michael’s representative to the Lake Champlain Research Consortium, a collaboration of the Vermont academic institutions in the Champlain Basin. Its mission is to coordinate and facilitate research and scholarship on the Lake Champlain ecosystem and related issues; to provide opportunities for training and education of students on lake issues; and to aid in the dissemination of information gathered through lake endeavors. Facey is now the executive director “which keeps me in the middle of a lot of Lake Champlain issues and involved with issues related to federal funding that comes through NOAA. I’ve also hosted several conferences on the lake, including a water-quality conference held at Saint Michael’s in 2006.”

“Lake Champlain is not a badly polluted lake,” says Facey. The concern about water quality in the lake now is the amount of nutrients going into the water, as well as chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

“The health of the lake is a much more complicated issue than people think,” says Facey. “People ask ‘How do we fix the problem,’ or ‘How come we haven’t fixed the problem,’ but there are so many different problems that contribute to the overall quality of the lake’s environment that it’s hard to find an answer.The issue of water quality is an issue of complexity. A lot of different things contribute to the water quality of the lake.

“I wish people would realize that the lake is very diverse. We tend to focus on what we catch — five or 10 species — when the reality is there are over 50 kinds of fish in the lake, most of which people don’t know about. We need to manage the lake for biodiversity, not just for fish and game concerns.”


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