WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WANE) – Purdue University received a $10 million grant for five years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help boost the production of seafood across the Midwest.

Jen-Yi Huang, project director and associate professor of food science at Purdue, says “blue food” is healthier and more sustainable to produce than land-based foods.

“Growing aquaponics in the Midwest will largely foster the regional economy,” Huang said.

He noted that studies have shown the importance of growing the consumption of seafood in American diets. He said that seafood can boost intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals while lowering cholesterol and saturated fats.

A blue food assessment published in scientific journal, Nature, in 2021 found that increasing aquatic source foods by more than 15 million tons by 2030 would lower the cost of seafood by 26%.

Most seafood in the United States is imported from other parts of the world and recent issues in the supply chain along with increased fuel costs and the COVID-19 pandemic have shown how vulnerable the seafood market can be.

The alternative Huang believes in is Aquaculture, where fish are raised and produced under controlled conditions. He said fisheries in the U.S. are not sustainable because of concerns of overfishing.

Huang believes the Midwest could benefit greatly from aquaculture since the region consumes the least amount of seafood and suffers from high obesity rates.

“This can help increase production of seafood in the region, but this hasn’t been widely adopted yet due to the amount of energy use it requires along with environmental concerns,” he said.

The issue with an aquaculture operation is amount of wastewater it discharges into the environment. The large aquafarms have to obtain permits and deal with the high maintenance costs to treat the wastewater before discharging it.

Researchers at Purdue plan to use the USDA funding to build a pilot-scale integrated aquaponics system on campus to produce lettuce and tilapia.

The grant will also fund the creation of educational materials for high school, undergraduate and graduate students.