Shads, Witches and Wind-chimes: A Strange Brew on the Delaware!

Today’s Travel Supplement preview has a special significance for native Swedes. It’s the only event on the country’s official Hurringstkalandarr (literal translation “herring calendar”– a national registry of herring-related events worldwide) that does not feature a herring. Not literally at least. New Jersey’s Shadfest is a celebration of the Shad, a close fish-relative to the herring, close enough to the real McCoy to bring the state’s Swedish population out in droves (if three can be described as a drove). The Shad is the only common freshwater to fish to have an exoskeleton. And an endoskeleton. The two skeletons give the fish the luxury of having no known natural predators and, due to the fact that it is completely inedible, it is not fished for human consumption. In the early 1980s Lambertville NJ found a innovative solution to the huge overpopulation of Shad in the waters of the neighboring Delaware River. They designed a festival–Shadfest–that would attempt to sell the Shad (cooked in a variety of creative ways) to naive festival-goers while distracting them with music and local artisanal wind-chimes and teapots. Surprisingly it worked: the festival now boasts around 30,000 visitors annually and has decreased the Delaware’s Shad levels to an acceptable 130 Shad per cubic foot.

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Shadharvest using reinforced nets — artisanal bridge in background

If you’re concerned about eating such a bony fish — don’t worry! Although hundreds of people get the bones stuck in their throat every year there have been no fatalities at the festival since 2001. Similar to the ubiquitous anti-venom kit in Australia, Lambertville residents all carry personal fishbone-removal packs, a necessity if you are going to eat the fish regularly. Adept locals can clear the throat of a suffocating tourist in a matter of seconds, allowing the fun to continue as if nothing happened!

While you’re in Lambertville be sure to cross the river to New Hope, Pennsylvania. The bridge across the Delaware was designed by local artists and although its narrow, slippy, grille-based structure is not suitable for motorized vehicles, the resulting “artistic river journey” is well worth the risk. New Hope was the first town in the United States to decriminalize cannabis, legalizing the drug for recreational use in 1996, a milestone that has not been publicized nationally as no-one outside of the immediate vicinity has yet noticed. The town is also home to an autochthonous population of witches–believed to be the highest sorcerer-density in the Northeastern United States–and the municipality’s witch dunking apparatus (used to confirm all applicants for witching status) is seen perched on the banks of the Delaware, a man-made river crane welcoming all who dare to cross!