Excited participants and their supporters celebrated the start of the seven-month stone crab harvest season during Saturday’s 10th annual Stone Crab Claw Eating Contest, a rowdy amateur eating competition staged at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon.
Two competitive heats of hungry individuals chowed down in hopes of being named the most proficient cracker and consumer of the tasty crustaceans.
Contestants had to crack and eat 25 stone crab claws and pick them completely clean in the fastest time. No claw meat can be left behind, lest risking a 30-second penalty by the judges.
Miami resident Juan Mallen, 55, returned to reclaim his champion title, finishing in 14 minutes, 29 seconds. This year was Mallen’s third first-place finish and his fifth contest overall.
In 2017 he set the competition’s record time of 12 minutes, 54 seconds — and it still stands.
“I feel great about getting the title back because I lost it last year (actually 2019), and I feel like I could always come here and win, but it’s great that I always have competition,” said Mallen, who revealed a change in cracking and eating strategy he incepted since he lost the last contest staged in 2019. “This time, I break it and I eat it right away, instead of breaking all of them and then eating it, that was my strategy this year.”
Marathon residents Tom Zajac and Justin Hare claimed the top team title, finishing in seven minutes and seven seconds.
The world-renowned delicacy is considered a renewable resource because of the crabs’ ability to re-grow harvested claws. The Florida Keys are responsible for about half of the state’s stone crab harvest that averages about 2 million pounds annually, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Stone crab season runs from Oct. 15 to May 1.