Jose Antao

March 23, 2013

Portugal

I have recently learned about your “Eat the Invaders” initiative and was delighted to see how it seems to be working. I had myself flirted with the idea of doing something along those lines, and I have assembled a list of invasive exotic plant species in Portugal, with data on their edibility and potential medicinal uses. Not a lot of them are clear gourmet material, but I will give some of those a try (also, Portugal has less of an invasive species abundance on offer than the USA).

Having lived in the US for nearly 9 years (Boston), I got acquainted with some of the ecological issues in the country, and one of the items I was fascinated with was the problem with sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) is a regional specialty in the north of Portugal, where its scarcity makes the prices soar to pretty high values, especially considering the economic reality here. It is also very tasty. It made me wonder why nobody seems to be eating them there. Do you have any idea about that? Could it be that there’s something about the environmental conditions around there that make them less suitable for eating, or is it that people dread the animal?

I would be happy to start an import route from the US into here. Thank you for your work and good luck for the project(s).

ETI responds: Thank you for your note. I suspect the reason we don’t eat lampreys is purely cultural. Our parents didn’t eat them, so neither do we. That having been said, I’d be happy to work with you on this. We have lampreys here in Vermont (that may be native, as it turns out). But the government uses poisons to kill them–to protect more highly valued game fish. The poison kills the lampreys and rare native salamanders. A bad deal all around.

Yes, it was my impression as well that lamprey control is done mostly through poisoning. And it does sound like a bad deal. As for cultural issues around eating them, that’s probably the same with every invader. One way around it could be to catch the fish and sell it in the portuguese communities in New England (New Bedford, Fall River, Providence, Newark, etc).

Let me add to my earlier note that lamprey is not eaten exclusively in Portugal. I’m more familiar with it here, but it is also found at
least in Spain and France as well. It can be cooked fresh or it can be canned. Here are a couple of examples from French online stores:
Millesimes Gourmet
Lafitte
As you can see, the price is not unattractive.

You can also find some ecological and nutritional information about the lamprey in this short presentation.

It’s possible that, being a very fatty fish, there are some concerns with the accumulation of mercury and certain fat-soluble water pollutants.

More information on sea lampreys in the Great Lakes.

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Field Notes

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What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1878

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