While the Florida Keys stone crab harvest season runs from Oct. 15 to May 1, the annual Stone Crab Claw Eating Contest is an undisputed Middle Keys highlight to jumpstart the season. Set for Saturday, Oct. 23, the munch-a-thon draws enthusiastic amateur eaters and their fans.

Staged at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina, located at 35th Street, gulfside, in Marathon, the lively competition begins at noon. Entrants must register and be present by 11 a.m. the day of the event.

Interested devourers are encouraged to register early to ensure a spot at the table. Contestants compete to crack, clean and chow down 25 stone crab claws in the fastest time.

Although they are provided with industrial–strength shell crackers, some entrants choose to employ an effective method that’s popular among Keys locals — smacking the rounded area of the claw’s shell with the back of a large serving spoon or even a simple butter knife.

Prizes such as overnight stays and passes to Keys attractions and eateries will be awarded to the top three finishers as well as top teams.

In the event of a tie, those contestants must face off in a 10-claw competition to determine the winner.

Individual entry fee is $50 and two-person teams can register for $100. Competitors must be at least 18 years of age. Proceeds from the team event benefit a Marathon-based charity.

The Keys are Florida’s top supplier of the succulent crustacean, which is considered a renewable resource because of the crabs’ ability to regrow harvested claws.

For event information and registration, visit http://www.keysfisheries.com.

For Marathon visitor information, visit http://www.fla-keys.com/marathon or call 1-800-262-7284.