Eels are traditional bony fish with a backbone and a ribcage. Our local lakes, rivers, and creeks are home to American eels, which are all born in the Saragasso Sea and migrate as tiny elvers to American waters where they live out their lives. When it comes time to spawn they head back to the Saragasso Sea.
These eels are not prized as food by Americans, but European eels and Japanese eels are food favorites in their respective cultures. These two eels are almost indistinguishable from their American counterparts. Like American eels, they are all born in the Saragasso Sea and migrate back to their respective continents.
Lampreys are very primitive vertebrates having a cartilage backbone, no paired fins, and no jaws. They have seven gill slots, much like very primitive sharks. They do have a wide mouth and rows of teeth.
The three species of lampreys that are of interest, because of their affect on fish populations, are the sea lamprey, the Pacific lamprey, and the fresh water lamprey.
Of the three, the sea lamprey is of the most concern. in the Atlantic states.
Lampreys are parasitic and are sometimes defined as vampires. They use their jawless mouth and rows of teeth to hook on to prey fish and suck out the host fish’s blood and other body fluids. Fish that are preyed upon by lampreys, rarely survive. There are no apparent predators of Sea lampreys (Atlantic), but the Pacific lamprey has predation observed at the hands of other fish. Atlantic lampreys are somewhat larger than the Pacific species.
Lampreys in North America are not apt to find their way to the dinner plates of most of the fish eating population. In Europe, it is another matter. For centuries lampreys have been prized as food, and it is alleged that King Henry I of England died after stuffing himself with lampreys. Menus of the 14th and 15th century often list lamprey on the bill of fare. Queen Elizabeth’s ascending to the English throne in 1953 was marked by one of the dishes served to the royal guests being lamprey pie.
Indians in the tribes of the Pacific Northwest are significant lamprey eaters. Some observers claim that their flesh tastes something like mackerel. Lampreys have no scales and do have a slimy skin. They have two eyes and also what appears to be a blowhole.
Lampreys are anadramous, being born in fresh water and living in salt. They come back to spawn. They do not eat before spawning as their digestive system disintegrates and they die after spawning.
They have inundated the Great Lakes and persistent efforts over the past two decades to eradicate them there and in the St. Lawrence River, have met with limited success. It is estimated that in a sea lamprey’s short life it will destroy 40 pounds of fish. While lampreys, both Atlantic and Pacific tend to prey on salmonoids (salmon, trout, whitefish), they do attach themselves to other species
The bad news for us is that sea lampreys have been found in the Maurice River and in Union Lake. They have appeared in the Union Lake fish ladders, and when discovered have been destroyed by Division of Fish and Wildlife personnel.
Anglers who come across lampreys are urged to destroy them (Maybe eat them?).
We will try to keep our readers posted as to any further developments with lampreys appearing locally.