Lampreys appear never to have supported a fishery in Scotland but have been commonly eaten in various European countries where they are considered a delicacy. Sea lampreys are still eaten in Portugal, and river lampreys, smoked or soaked in oil, in Scandanavia. Lampreys used to be eaten in Scotland, and in 1304 lampreys were imported from France to supply the king while staying at St Andrews. Remains of lamprey teeth dating from the 15th Century have also been recovered from the site of the Cistercian abbey cloister at Dundrennan, near Kirkcudbright.
Lampreys were once highly prized in England and both the Severn and Thames supported substantial lamprey fisheries at one time. Peculiarly, many of the lampreys from these rivers were not fished for food but were exported to Holland as bait for cod and turbot. Most famously the city of Gloucester annually presented a lamprey pie to the reigning sovereign, and it was a surfeit of such lampreys that reputedly killed King Henry I and King John. The kings' deaths were most likely caused by failing to carefully prepare the lampreys before cooking, leading to toxic poisoning.
Although few lampreys are found north of the Great Glen there are several different Gaelic names for lampreys; buarach na baoibhe (bowruch na byva), creathall (crehal), easgann bhreac (acecan vraechd), langar leach (lang-ar eelach), naid (naj), rochuaid (roch-oo-atch).
The number of Gaelic names perhaps indicates that lampreys used to be better known to our predecessors than they are to us. Buarach na baoibhe is the most evocative of all the names. Buarach literally means a 'cow-fetter', which is a shackle bound round the hind legs of a cow when milked, and is probably a reference to the cow-fetter's eel-like shape. Baoibhe has various meanings including a she-spirit believed to haunt rivers, and refers to the myth that lampreys were eels possessing magical powers.
Outside of Europe, lampreys are found in North America. There they play an important part in the native culture with the seven gill openings on each side of a lamprey's head said to be the result of lampreys using their bodies as flutes to win an ancient music competition between all beings in the universe, excluding humans.