No Severn lamprey for Queen's Diamond jubilee pie
ONE of Gloucester's greatest traditions is changing.
It is a city custom stretching back centuries to send the reigning monarch a lamprey pie – a traditional dish made with an eel-like fish native to the River Severn – to mark a coronation or jubilee.
But for the diamond jubilee, the uniquely British recipe will be prepared with lampreys from America, due to a shortage of the species in Gloucester waters.
When attempting to source the lampreys for the Golden Jubilee in 2002, officials were informed the eel had become a protected species and were referred to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) in Michigan, USA, where they are considered a pest.
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Citizen journalist Martin Kirby, who sourced the lamprey for the golden jubilee pie through his involvement with the Barton Fayre Committee, said: "I was asked to find the eels and was surprised to find out that we couldn't get them from Gloucestershire, but luckily they are not as treasured in America and Canada.
"It is great that we have been able to keep the tradition alive. even if it cannot be with lamprey from Gloucester waters."
The tradition of sending a pie to the royal household died out during the industrial revolution, but in 1952 Gloucester's sheriff Howard Sibson resurrected it in time for the present Queen's coronation in 1953.
The last time she was given a lamprey pie with eels from the Severn was on her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
The pie has been a favourite of gourmets since the Middle Ages, when the royal gift tradition began.
A weakness for the fish is thought to have proved fatal for King Henry I, who in 1135 died of food poisoning after eating "a surfeit of lampreys", while Samuel Pepys' diaries speak of the their popularity among "medieval epicures".
At the time, there was no more prestigious source than Gloucester's River Severn, and so the idea of presenting a pie from the city was born.
Charles Crundwell, senior fisheries specialist at the Environment Agency, said: "There are three UK lamprey species – brook, river and sea – present in the River Severn.
"Stocks are hard to assess because of their secretive nature, but are thought to be stable.
"Lamprey are protected, but applications can be made for fishing them. There has been little interest in fishing for lamprey in the River Severn in the past decade."
The American sea lamprey are set to arrive in Britain on May 4, when GLFC's Dr Marc Gaden will present them to Gloucester City Council.