MARATHON, Florida Keys -- Seafood lovers can savor a "fisherman-to-fork" feast of indigenous fish, shrimp, lobster and stone crab claws at Marathon's sumptuous signature foodie fair, the Original Marathon Seafood Festival, set for Saturday and Sunday, March 8-9.
More than 20,000 revelers are expected to descend on Marathon Community Park, mile marker 49 oceanside, to munch on mahi-mahi, crackers piled high with creamy smoked fish dip and conch served four ways: as ceviche, chowder, fried golden fritters and bun-hugging "conchwurst" sausage.
Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Decades of experience and help from scores of fishing families committed to serving their community keep local fishermen and their wives involved in the event each year, along with scores of volunteers.
Keys Fisheries, which processes fishermen's catches for its busy market and restaurant, has space large enough to prepare the festival's feast: a whopping 2,750 pounds of whole lobster, 1,400 pounds of mahi-mahi (dolphin), 1,000 pounds of stone crab claws, 750 pounds of Key West pink shrimp, 200 pounds of fish dip, 80 gallons of conch chowder and 50 gallons of conch ceviche. From the west coast of Florida come 75 bushels of oysters and 75 bags of clams.
Local chefs offer up their talents to prepare the foods according to Keys-based recipes. Save room for the sweets booth, an extravaganza of fresh Key lime pies, baked goods and cakes, cool smoothies and icy treats -- all crafted locally.
The family-friendly event also features a Keys artists' village and art show, raffle giveaways and prizes including a cooler stocked with fresh Keys seafood awaiting one lucky attendee. Children's games and more than 200 vendor and information booths are to dot the park, offering a variety of wares, nautical items, tropical apparel and accessories, plants, flowers, boats and material about watersports and organizations.
Live music performances are slated all weekend. The lineup includes favorite Keys entertainers as well as South Florida's country music favorite Amber Leigh, scheduled to perform Sunday.
The springtime weekend celebrates the area's commercial fishing heritage and raises funds for local scholarship programs. To date, nearly $75,000 has been awarded to Marathon High School students through the Marathon chapter of the Organized Fishermen of Florida, a statewide group that represents the interests and well-being of the commercial fishing industries.
Admission is $5 per adult. Children age 10 and under are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.
The festival is co-sponsored by the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce.