COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — Your grandfather ate them.

Of course, he did a lot of disgusting things.

Back in the day, smelts were a source of winter income and spring protein.

Now they have gone the way of baked beans and brown bread on a Saturday night.

However, in Columbia Falls, they have a smelt fry every spring.  It's a celebration of how clean the Pleasant River is. 

The smelt (the plural of which is smelt) is food for Atlantic Salmon. 

The Downeast Salmon Federation has worked hard to clean up the river, work which includes the removal of dams twenty years ago.

"We have secured the fish in a stable, but low number" says Dwayne Shaw who is the organizations Executive Director. "We are trying to turn that around through a lot of activities."

The organization maintains a hatchery on the river bank where salmon eggs are fertilized cared for and released into the river. 

Their program matches one in Europe which is considered the most successful in the world.  The goal is to have Atlantic Salmon returning in historically high numbers.

In the meantime, the community celebrates that it is home to the only commercial smelt fishery in the east.

"I love my smelts!" exclaims noted Maine artist Eric Hopkins who traveled from the island of North Haven. The proper name for a group of smelt on your plate is a "mess of smelts!"