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MARATHON (CBSMiami/FKNB) — The Florida Keys has a new stone crab eating champion.

Aaron Sutcliffe proved he is the most proficient cracker and consumer of Florida Keys stone crab claws by taking top honors in the fifth annual Stone Crab Eating Contest Saturday in Marathon.

The challenge, staged at Keys Fisheries Restaurant, celebrated the opening of the annual stone crab claw harvesting season. More than 30 contestants each cracked and cleanly ate their way through 25 stone crab claws, all vying to post the fastest time. Contestants were penalized for any meat left behind.

Sutcliffe, who finished in 14 minutes and 20 seconds, said he learned to eat stone crab claws quickly as a child.

“In my family if you don’t eat the stone crabs fast, you don’t get anything,” he said. “And I love the things. They’re delicious.”

Contestants in the Stone Crab Eating Contest begin cracking their claws Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Keys Fisheries Restaurant in Marathon, Fla. The contest in the Florida Keys awarded individual and team honors to participants who turned in the fastest times for cracking and cleanly consuming 25 stone crab claws. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Contestants in the Stone Crab Eating Contest begin cracking their claws Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, at Keys Fisheries Restaurant in Marathon, Fla. The contest in the Florida Keys awarded individual and team honors to participants who turned in the fastest times for cracking and cleanly consuming 25 stone crab claws. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

He said his secret weapon was using a butter knife versus a commercial cracker or mallet.

“You crack with this (handle) side and eat with this (blade) side,” he said. “It’s very efficient.”

Among two-person team competitors, Greg D’Agostino and Rick Palmer, both residents of Marathon, earned top honors by turning in a time of 8:50.

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.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.)

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