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Bag O Lamprey

Doug and Jeff bagging sea lamprey.

Doug Jensen and Jeff Gunderson of Minnesota Sea Grant bag lamprey for freezing and shipment overseas. Facilities were provided courtesy of Kemp Fisheries Co. Inc., Duluth.

Will chefs in Portugal and Spain accept frozen lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) instead of live lamprey? That’s the question to be answered in Minnesota Sea Grant’s continuing study to determine the marketability of Great Lakes lamprey (an exotic pest) overseas where lamprey are considered a delicacy. The study is sponsored by the Great Lakes Protection Fund.

Several hundred lamprey provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were collected from Lake Huron tributaries, frozen, and shipped to Portugal and Spain this past spring. Successful efforts the previous year focused on shipping live lamprey because that is how chefs use lamprey in their traditional dishes. But the European researchers cooperating on the project thought frozen lamprey had potential and should be tested. If frozen lamprey are marketable, the transportation cost would be greatly reduced and the economic potential for a commercial harvest improved.

Earlier this year, a mail survey of 1,000 Portuguese who live near lamprey spawning rivers was conducted by Dr. Teresa Madeira, School of Biotechnology, Catholic University of Portugal to characterize lamprey consumption and marketing opportunities in Portugal, and to evaluate consumer attitudes.

Highlights of the survey findings include:

  • Typical consumers are male and are more than 50 years old
  • Of the 90 percent of respondents who said they have tasted lamprey, 94 percent said they liked it
  • Lack of opportunity was the reason most cited for respondents never having tasted lamprey. Most were interested in tasting lamprey if it were available
  • Most prefer to eat lamprey in restaurants. An exception was women over 50, who prefer to eat it at home
  • When lamprey are eaten in restaurants, respondents said they made a reservation specifying lamprey. The decision to eat lamprey is usually made together with friends, emphasizing the social nature of eating it
  • Most wanted to buy live lamprey

The sea lamprey is a parasitic exotic species that devastated the Great Lakes fishery in the past. It is hoped this project will help efforts to reduce the lamprey population in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a bilateral agency funded by the United States and Canada, directs the lamprey control program using an integrated approach of chemical treatments, sterilization, and trapping.

line art of a lamprey

By Brian, Tom, and Kevin.
Fourth-grade students, Bel Air Elementary, New Brighton, MN

lamprey slimy, brown squirms, swerves, bites the vampire of the water exotic

The commission voted this past summer not to support a commercial fishery for lamprey. “They do support our research project, however,” said Jeff Gunderson, project leader and Minnesota Sea Grant associate director. “Even though they don’t feel a commercial fishery is viable now, they have told us they welcome having the information so they can pull it from their ‘bag of tricks’ for lamprey control when needed.”

For more information about this project, contact Jeff Gunderson, 218.726.8715.

By Marie Zhuikov
March 1998

Return to March 1998 Seiche

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