Great Lakes lamprey to be baked in a dish fit for a queenSea lamprey may be one of the most hated species in the Great Lakes, but it’s a key ingredient in a traditional English pie that will be given to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee in June.
By: Tina Lam, Detroit Free Press
Sea lamprey may be one of the most hated species in the Great Lakes, but it’s a key ingredient in a traditional English pie that will be given to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee in June.
But because the eel-like creatures are now a protected species in England, the city of Gloucester, which has given the pie as a gift to the monarch since the Middle Ages, made a request for the lamprey to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which was only too happy to supply them. Unfortunately, the English need only a few to make the pie.
“We would prefer to send them truckloads of lamprey,” commission spokesman Marc Gaden said.
The city used to give the king a lamprey pie each year at Christmas. Since 1836, the pie has been baked only for the monarch’s special occasions, such as the queen’s coronation in 1953 and her silver and golden jubilee anniversaries.
Although lamprey used to be abundant in the Severn River near Gloucester, the creatures now are endangered and protected.
“It would be like us making a pie out of piping plover,” an endangered shorebird in the Great Lakes region, Gaden said.
Gaden already has shipped 2 pounds of slimy Lake Huron lamprey, frozen, to Gloucester, but he is vacationing in England and will put on a tie and officially present the fish to the mayor May 4.
Sarrah Maccey of the Gloucester Folk Museum told BBC News that she and a chef will bake the pie, and she is researching ancient local recipes. One traditional 15th-century recipe calls for the creature to be cooked in a sauce of wine, vinegar, cinnamon and its own blood, then baked in a tall crust.
Martin Kirby, a local journalist who took on the task of finding suitable lamprey for the occasion, said the pie crust is not supposed to be eaten and will be decorated with the city’s coat of arms.
Gaden said he doesn’t plan to eat any. No one knows for sure whether the queen will take a bite, either, as she celebrates 60 years on the throne.
Eating too many lamprey, which he loved, was said to be what killed King Henry I in 1135, according to Charles Dickens’ “A Child’s History of England” and other sources. Samuel Pepys mentioned in his famed diaries in the 1660s that lampreys were a popular delicacy.
Because Gloucester was a center of fishing on the Severn River, the city became the king’s source of the fish. Today, Gloucester still has a Lamprey Hotel on its main street.
But across the Great Lakes, lamprey are an invasive, destructive nuisance. They attach themselves to the bodies of native fish, such as lake trout, and suck out their innards, usually killing them. After decades of working with poisons, trapping them and attracting them with pheromones, Gaden said, lamprey populations in the Great Lakes have declined by about 90 percent from their peak.
But even in those diminished numbers, lamprey remain a threat to fish in Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes.
“There’s still heavy predation of sea lamprey on native and stocked fish across the Great Lakes,” said Minnesota Sea Grant Aquatic Invasive Species Program coordinator Doug Jensen.
Jensen said $20 million is spent annually to keep lamprey in check in the Great Lakes region, and help protect the estimated $7 billion economic impact generated by commercial and recreational fishing on the Great Lakes.
Andrew Krueger of the News Tribune contributed to this report.