In two competitive heats, 26 hungry individuals chowed down in the Middle Keys amateur eating competition. Staged at Keys Fisheries Saturday in Marathon, it celebrates the Florida Keys' seven-month stone crab harvest season which began Oct. 15 and continues through May 15.
Gatti, 30, employed an ice cream scoop as a tool to crack his way to victory. His strategy for winning was simple.
"Go through 'em nice and steady, crack-crack-crack, then eat-eat-eat," said Gatti of Big Pine Key. "And then go through the ones that you missed and try to end up a winner."
In the contest's team division, Marathon residents Greg D'Agostino and Ryan B eckett claimed a fourth consecutive title, finishing in six minutes and 21 seconds.
Contest rules require entrants to pick their claws completely clean in the fastest time. No claw meat can be left behind, lest the judges impose a 30-second penalty.
"Stone crabs are great because they’re sweet and tender and honestly you don't need dipping sauce," said Gatti. "People use butter, people use mustards -- but if you can just sit there and eat the stone crab, it has its own flavor, own texture, and they’re fabulous."
The Florida Keys island chain is Florida's top regional supplier of the world-renowned delicacy -- considered a renewable resource because of the crabs’ ability to re-grow harvested claws.
About 40 percent of the state's stone crab harvest that averages more than 2 million pounds annually comes from Keys waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.