MARATHON, Florida Keys — Marathon resident Larry Smorgala proved he is the most proficient cracker and consumer of Florida Keys stone crab claws by taking top honors in the fourth annual Keys Fisheries Stone Crab Eating Contest Saturday in Marathon.
In the challenge staged to celebrate the opening of the annual stone crab season, nearly 40 determined contestants cracked, cleaned and ate their way through 25 stone crab claws, all vying for the fastest time.
Smorgala followed a crack-them-all-first-then-eat strategy, finishing in 15 minutes, 20 seconds.
“The best strategy out there is the cracking of the stone crab,” said Smorgala, a Keys resident. “You don’t want to get any of the crab shell smashed into the meat.
“You want it nice and clean so you can pick the meat out,” he said. “It’s the best stone crab cracker that wins it, not the best eater.”
Smorgala admitted he’s not a fan of the succulent crabs but figured his strategy had a winning chance.
“They will chase you out of the Florida Keys if you don’t eat stone crab claws,” he said. “It’s kind of like living in Wisconsin and not liking cheese.
“You’ve gotta do it,” he said.
Among a field of 11 two-person team competitors, Greg D’Agostino and Alyssa Hoyer, both residents of Marathon, earned top honors by turning in a time of 10:40.
An average of 2.6 million pounds of stone crab claws are harvested annually, with about 40 percent coming from waters off the Florida Keys. The succulent crustacean is considered a renewable resource, since legal-size claws are harvested and the crab is returned to the water to grow new extremities.
Stone crab season runs from Oct. 15 to May 15.