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Project VENUS underway in Cedar Key

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During the last seven years, researchers at the University of Florida IFAS and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University with Florida Sea Grant funding 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-percent 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 this issue and obtain full adoption of this species by the industry, a technology transfer project (Project VENUS - Vocational Education Network Using Sunrays) to assist development of sunray venus clam production in Florida has been funded by the NOAA National Sea Grant Program.
The project brings together resources at the University of Florida, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing and the Florida clam culture industry.
One of the first steps in Project Venus 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 High-Density Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Area was recently established by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and approved by the Board of Trustees (Governor and Cabinet).
Promising results from test plots of sunray venus clams were obtained at this site. The site will be managed jointly by the University of Florida 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. It is anticipated that within a year or so this delicious clam will be available at area restaurants and seafood markets. Stay tuned.

For further information about Project VENUS, contact Leslie Sturmer, UF IFAS shellfish extension specialist, by phone at 352-543-5057 or by email at LNST@ufl.edu.