While the remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor dumped much-needed rain on the region Sunday, the organizers of the 53rd annual U.S. Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s County moved the national oyster shucking competition inside one of the commercial buildings at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in an attempt to keep the competitors, and spectators, dry.
While the winner did not set a new record this time, he will get a chance to go to the next world championships in Galway, Ireland.
Honor Allen of Panama City, Fla., said he “always enjoys coming here,” and said before the final rounds that he was hoping to make this year his third win, a hope that came true.
The weather did not deter the young and old die-hard shucking fans from coming out to taste the steamed and raw oysters and see the competition up close. Several people such as Joyce Owens, whose husband is a member of the Rotary Club of Lexington Park, which sponsors the festival, said she’s “here rain or shine” every year.
The final competition pitted Annie Bonifacio, the women’s contest victor, against Allen, winner of the men’s contest, for the national title.
The competition began with the women’s event Sunday afternoon with six contestants. Bonifacio of Shallotte, N.C., won with a shucking time of 2 minutes and 12.51 seconds, before any penalties or bonus seconds were calculated.
There was a brief mix-up following the men’s competition when two of the competitors were announced in the wrong order during the standing’s announcement. Ultimately, though, Allen finished the men’s championship heat with a shucking time of 1:48.34, before he and Bonifacio faced off in the championship.
Allen won the overall competition with a final time of 2 minutes and 20.22 seconds compared to Bonifacio’s 3:26.18. His shucking time, marked before any penalties or bonuses were added, was 1:59.22.
Allen, 25, had previously won the national contest in 2016 and 2017. Bonifacio was the women’s contest winner in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
This was the first time the shucking competition was held indoors and David Taylor, who was the competition’s emcee, said he thought the competition when very well for both the competitors and spectators, who had a closer-than-normal view of the shuckers thanks to the indoor setup.
The current shucking record is 1 minute, 58.64 seconds, set last year by Brian Clark of Florida. Clark finished second in the men’s final heat this year.
Saturday saw many more people attending the festival than Sunday because of the weather. Susan Joy, a vendor from Drayden, said, “There was much more foot traffic Saturday.” However, several vendors left the festival early Sunday because of the rain.
The event is one of the Rotary Club of Lexington Park’s biggest fundraisers. Proceeds go to help people and organizations throughout Southern Maryland. The club donates money for scholarships for students, as well as grants for teachers and stipends for schools. Each year, every third-grader in the county is offered a dictionary thanks to Rotary.