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Left of Center with Joshua Maloni
The Upward Niagara Chamber of Commerce is teaming with The Griffon Brewery & Gastropub (115 S. Water St., Lewiston) to host the Smelt Festival beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, May 26.
The event – the first Smelt Festival post-COVID-19 – is sponsored by DiMino’s Lewiston Tops, which assists in sourcing and purchasing the smelt. Hundreds of pounds of smelt will be deep-fried for hungry patrons at the first festival of the summer.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Niagara River Anglers “Pen Project” in hopes of a new aquaculture project in Youngstown.
Smelt Fest file photo
Smelt Fest Origins
The Niagara River Anglers Association unofficially launched the event three decades ago when a group of fishers got together for a waterfront fish fry.
Prior to the 2019 Smelt Festival, Niagara River Anglers Association member Paul Jackson shared more history. The following is reprinted from a Sentinel article.
For those unfamiliar, Jackson explained, “Smelt is an ocean fish. It came into the Great Lakes through the seaway many, many years ago, found it to their liking, and are able to spawn in our local creeks and rivers. And do quite well. We don’t have them in Lake Ontario like we did; I believe a lot has to do with predation from the salmon that we put in.”
About 30 years ago, when smelt supply was greater, “It started out as a small gang down on the dock; a few guys cooking some smelt that they’d caught right away,” Jackson said.
Though smelt are still available locally, there is a catch limit. The Smelt Festival often goes through 400 or so pounds of the fragrant, tiny gray fish. As such, “These are commercially caught. Cleaned. We buy them from a local vendor like Tops here, and then go ahead and process them, deep-fry them and hand them out for donation purposes,” Jackson said.
Former Mayor Richard Soluri was one of the first to recognize the importance of smelting to the River Region, and the potential for showcasing local fishers and waterways via a community event. The Chamber of Commerce was brought on board, and the Smelt Festival was born.
“It’s just kind of expanded; you know, back in the day when the Chamber of Commerce got involved, it became a party,” Jackson said.
The Smelt Festival was held on Water Street and in Academy Park in years past.
Smelt Fest file photo
What to Expect this Year
In addition to the River Region’s favorite fish (available for $5), the Smelt Festival will feature live music with The Brothers of Invention (on the patio), plus additional food and beverages.
Griffon chefs will prepare the smelt for Chamber of Commerce volunteers and local dignitaries to hand out to the public.
“Smelt King” Ken Scibetta, co-owner of the Griffon, will serve as honorary emissary.
More details on the Smelt Festival can be found online at https://www.upwardniagara.com/.