Fisheries Slide Show Feature
Pacific Region


The People Behind the Program: Jeff Jolley, Fisheries Biologist

Jeff Jolley's colleagues sometimes tease him about studying "worms instead of real fish." But these days Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridenta) research is no laughing matter. The species is in decline, and scientists like Jolley are studying the movement and migration of a fish that's considered vitally important, both ecologically to Northwest rivers and salmon runs and culturally to West Coast Native American tribes.

Jolley, a Fisheries Biologist, is the team lead for lamprey and native mussel studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Columbia River Fisheries Program Office (CRFPO). The Midwest native, who holds degrees in zoology and fisheries from North Dakota State University, Auburn, and South Dakota State University, is now one of the CRFPO's lead lamprey researchers. The Columbia River and White Salmon Rivers are his laboratory, and this summer Jolley will be out almost daily surveying deepwater habitats for lamprey larvae, or studying the ecology and biology of lamprey in Columbia River tributaries.

"Working with Pacific lamprey is fascinating," says Jolley, "First and foremost, they are prehistoric and predate dinosaurs, having evolved very little in that time. This in itself is pretty amazing. And compared to most other fish, we know very little about its biology and ecology. So the exciting part is that we are constantly learning new things about the species."

Jolley's field work conserving Pacific lamprey is a bit of a departure from his work in Michigan, where he served on the Service's Sea Lamprey Control Team. Studying a little-known species is a also a welcome change to studying yellow perch, bluegill, and catfishes, "very well-studied critters," Jolley says. Prior to moving the Northwest, he worked for the North Carolina State Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, focusing on anadromous striped bass and American shad, and the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit working on fish biology and management in regulated rivers.

Jolley's well-traveled career reflects his interest in learning and the mentors that instilled a passion for fusing science and exploration. "My undergraduate zoology professor and advisor [at North Dakota State University] was Dr. James Grier). I remember one day Dr. Grier gave us a lecture about the bald eagle research that he was involved in. He climbed trees in northern Minnesota to get to the nests and record information. It dawned on me at that point that I could actually make a living doing this stuff! I was hooked and declared my major the next day."

An avid angler, hunter, and explorer, in his free time, Jolley also draws inspiration from people who use science to make a difference, even when it's unpopular. Carl Safina is one of his role models. "His work on issues relating to the moral and ethical dimensions concerning humankind's relationship with the natural world and his adherence to scientific fact to guide these discussions is impressive," says Jolley. "I admire the people who understand the value of science in that it makes us a more open society."



Last updated: July 03, 2012

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