Project VENUS Gets Underway

The growth of the Florida shellfish culture industry is a dramatic success story. However, the industry is built on a single clam species—the hard clam. Development of alternative culture species and farming technology represents an important gain over the present reliance on a single species crop. During the past seven years, researchers at UF IFAS and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University (HBOI-FAU) supported by Florida Sea Grant have evaluated the culture and market potential of the sunray venus clam, an attractive native clam. Consumer acceptance and marketing studies have found that these clams rate highly as a potential addition to existing product lines and suggest strong market demand exists.

In field trials conducted with growers along the Gulf coast, promising results were obtained from test plantings in southwest Florida. However, in the Cedar Key area, where over 80% of the hard clams are produced in the state, the majority of existing leases were found not suitable for farming sunray venus clams. To address the need for geographical diversification of growing areas and obtain full adoption of this species by industry, a development strategy will be implemented that was successfully applied twenty years ago in transitioning fishermen to shellfish farmers.

An integrated technology transfer project to assist development of sunray venus clam production in Florida has been funded by the NOAA National Sea Grant Program. This project brings together resources at the UF, HBOI-FAU, and DACS Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing. The goal of Project VENUS (Vocational Education Network Using Sunrays) is to advance the production and distribution of the sunray venus clam. This will be accomplished through demonstration, education, and training to the various sectors (seed suppliers, growers, wholesalers) of the established clam culture industry. Project objectives are to ensure shellfish hatchery operators are capable of producing sunray venus seed, educate current clam growers about culture and handling methods suitable for sunray venus clam production, characterize bottom sediments to determine compatibility of existing leases and siting of new leases for sunray venus clams, evaluate protocols for freezing sunray venus clams to ensure product quality, and educate consumers and seafood buyers about the availability and attributes of a new Florida aquaculture product.

One of the first steps in Project Venus is to work with Florida hatchery operators to assist them in the production of seed by providing broodstock and technical support. Six hatcheries are participating in the project and will have seed available for growers this summer. The next step is to allow eligible growers in Levy County to learn and “experiment” with sunray venus clam culture practices without the investment and commitment of acquiring a lease. To do so, a commercial demonstration site located at a submerged sand spit east of Cedar Key and west of the Dog Island Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Area was approved by the Board of Trustees (Governor and Cabinet) on April 22. Promising results from test plots of sunray venus clams were obtained at this site. The site will be managed jointly by the UF and Cedar Key Aquaculture Association. Thirty-eight growers are participating in Project VENUS and will begin to grow crops of sunray venus clams on the 5-acre demonstration site this summer. A network will be established for participants to share learning experiences and develop standards, or guidelines, for the industry to use in culturing, harvesting, handling, purging, processing, and distributing cultured sunray venus clams. Sunray venus clams originating from the demonstration site will provide much needed visibility of this new culture product and allow market potential to be evaluated.

For further information about Project VENUS, contact Leslie Sturmer, UF IFAS shellfish aquaculture extension agent (phone: 352-543-5057, email:

View Summary of Sunray Venus Research and Development, 2006-13

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