The sunray venus clam Macrocallista nimbosa is a large, attractive clam distributed from the Carolinas to Florida and Gulf of Mexico states. During the 1960-70s, these clams were commercially harvested off the northwest Florida coast. Although the clams’ natural growth rates were estimated to be high, their patchy distribution limited exploitation. The prior fishery and existence of a latent market, along with it being a native species, made the sunray venus clam a logical choice as a candidate species to diversify and expand the shellfish aquaculture industry in Florida.
In 2006 research on the culture and market potential of the sunray venus clam was initiated with funding through the Florida Sea Grant College Program. Successful production of seed in a hatchery and market acceptance of cultured sunray venus clams by restaurant patrons led to a second Florida Sea Grant project. During 2008 to 2010, nursery and growout culture methods were further evaluated using similar methods as those for the hard clam. A third Florida Sea Grant project conducted during 2010 through 2012 sought to eliminate barriers to commercialization of the sunray venus clam through broodstock selection, growout site evaluation, and determination of wholesale-market related product attributes. Results of these projects led to increasing interest and investment in sunray venus clam culture by growers in several Florida counties.
To address the need for geographical diversification of growing areas and obtain full adoption of the sunray venus clam by the aquaculture industry, a development strategy that was successfully applied twenty years ago in transitioning Florida fishermen to shellfish farmers was implemented in 2013 with National Sea Grant support. Project VENUS (Vocational Education Network Using Sunrays) provides the necessary infrastructure via a public-private partnership to advance the production and distribution of the sunray venus clam through demonstration, education, and technology transfer to seed suppliers, growers, and wholesalers.