Introducing Shadfest

Posted 5/11/22

UPPER DELAWARE REGION — The American shad has a special place in American history, and a unique home in the Delaware River.

American shad is a species of fish found along the rivers and in …

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Introducing Shadfest


UPPER DELAWARE REGION — The American shad has a special place in American history, and a unique home in the Delaware River.

American shad is a species of fish found along the rivers and in the ocean of the mid-Atlantic. It was a staple food for Native American tribes such as the Lenape, who built fence-like weirs and used weighted nets to capture shad on spawning runs.

It was also an important food source for the early colonists—an apocryphal story credits a shad run as crucial for feeding George Washington’s army at Valley Forge—and it is important for recreational and commercial fishing along the East Coast.

The Delaware River currently holds crucial importance for the fish, because it is the last major river on the East Coast with an undammed main stem. American shad spend much of their lives out in the open ocean, returning to their home rivers to spawn. A decline in the undammed habitat available for their spawning and an increase in predation from a booming striped bass population have combined with other factors to drop populations of American shad to as low as one percent of their historic levels. The Delaware River provides the fish with a habitat to spawn in, and in exchange, the fish bring nutrients in to the Upper Delaware from the ocean.

The American shad’s importance to the region—and the region’s importance to the fish—is the hoped-for foundation of a new regional celebration.

Titled “Festival of the Founding Fish: Upper Delaware Shadfest 2020,” the festival will take place from Friday, May 20 to Sunday, May 22 in towns up and down the New York side of the Upper Delaware River.

John Pizzolato spoke on behalf of the Greater Barryville Chamber of Commerce and the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway with NPS Chief of Resource Management Don Hamilton at a May 5 meeting of the Upper Delaware Council. The meeting discussed the American shad and introduced the Shadfest; the historical information above is adapted from Hamilton’s portion of the presentation.

Shadfest plans to bring together communities along across the region, celebrating shad and drawing tourists here. The Delaware Company is producing the event with local cultural organizations such as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association and the Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce.

The festival has three ticketed tentpole events, said Pizzolato: a “Shad Shindig” in the evening of May 21 at Fort Delaware, with musical acts and shad food tasting prepared by chef Annika Sunduk of Nordic Preserves; a performance by Mike “Rocket Train” Edison and a screening of the features “Shad Run” and “A River Runs Through It,” held the morning of May 22 at the Callicoon Theater; and the “End of Shad Run Disco” at the Tusten Theatre that evening, with music headliner Say She She.

Those will be the events the Delaware Company—and the Sullivan County Legislature, which provided the festival with a $10,000 grant—will look at to determine the festival’s success, said Pizzolato. They’re also events that highlight the Icelandic airline PLAY, which is starting service from Newburgh’s Stewart International Airport on June 9; everyone who purchases a ticket to the events will be entered into a raffle for a trip for two to Reykjavik, Iceland.

In addition to the tentpole events, Shadfest will bring together local groups throughout the Upper Delaware region, with organizations hosting shad-themed events throughout the weekend; visit for a full lineup.

Pizzolato said that he hopes for Shadfest to be an annual event, and that other businesses in the region will see its success and join in. “Hopefully with this announcement, other businesses will make shad cocktails and shad appetizers… We’re really trying to light a match that grows and goes ablaze throughout this weekend to really get shad at the forefront of people’s minds.”

The River Reporter runs My River Tickets, the ticketing platform that Shadfest is using for its ticketed events.

Correction: An earlier edition of this article incorrectly stated Mike “Rocket Train” Edison as Mike “Rocket Travis” Edison. This has been corrected as of 10 am, 5/12/22.

shadfest, American Shad, East Coast, Festival of the Founding Fish: Upper Delaware Shadfest 2022; John Pizzolato, the Delaware Compny


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