stonecrabsMARATHON, Florida Keys — The much-anticipated opening of Florida’s stone crab season takes place Oct. 15 each year, but the 2011-12 season opening is going to be followed by a tasty test of crab-consuming capacity. The inaugural Stone Crab Eating Contest, a challenge for amateur eaters, is set for Saturday, Oct. 22.

The contest is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at Keys Fisheries Market & Marina, off U.S. Highway 1 at 35th Street Gulf in Marathon. Entrants must register and be present by 12 p.m. the day of the event, and are tasked with cracking and eating 25 stone crab claws, picking them completely clean, in the fastest time.

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

Prizes are to be awarded to the top three finishers. The first-place winner is to receive a two-night lodging package at Key West’s Doubletree Grand Key Resort featuring champagne, dinner for two and a sunset cruise on a tall ship or catamaran.

The second-place crab consumer earns a Swim with the Dolphins package at Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center, while the third-place finisher wins a $50 Keys Fisheries Market & Marina gift certificate.

The entry fee is $25 per contestant, and individuals must be at least 18 years old to enter. Because the inaugural contest is limited to 50 participants, interested eaters are encouraged to register early.

Stone crabs are considered by many to be the finest Florida seafood for their succulent claw meat. In addition, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, they are the state’s only renewable seafood resource. Legal-size claws are harvested between Oct. 15 and May 15 each year, and the crab’s body is returned to the water to generate new claws.

Event registration information: www.keysfisheries.com

Marathon visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284

Social: www.facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywesttwitter.com/thefloridakeyswww.YouTube.com/FloridaKeysTV

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