Aquaculture Challenge

The Michigan Sea Grant-led Aquaculture Challenge engages students in STEM learning, innovation, and career development by developing aquaponics systems and business plans.

Why aquaculture and aquaponics?

Aquaculture and aquaponics are ways of farming seafood and plants without using soil. They can be sustainable ways to generate food security and economic growth for the Great Lakes region. Learn more about aquaculture.

Aquaculture building equipment examples

Aquaculture Challenge

The Aquaculture Challenge is a collaboration between MISG and Lake Superior State University (LSSU). This science competition engages students in grades 8-12 from around the Midwest in a four-month venture to:

  • Build and monitor aquaponics systems
  • Create business plans
  • Cook seafood dishes or do seafood community outreach projects

The competition aims to engage students in STEM content, push teams to develop innovative aquaculture designs and business models, and demonstrate the potential of future aquaculture-related career paths.

Meet the 2023 winners!

View the 2023 awards ceremony on YouTube and meet the winning teams:

  • Judges’ Choice Award: Alcona Community Schools, Harrisville, MI
  • The Taste Maker Award (best seafood project): School of Options and Applied Research (SOAR) High School, Eagle River, WI
  • The Entrepreneurial Spirit Award (best business plan): School of Options and Applied Research (SOAR) High School, Eagle River, WI
  • The Tech Savvy Award (best monitoring): Green Lake High School, Green Lake, WI
  • Most Innovative Design Award (best system design): Les Cheneaux Community Schools, Cedarville, MI
  • Grand Prize (highest overall score): School of Options and Applied Research (SOAR) High School, Eagle River, WI

How to participate

The Aquaculture Challenge is a competition open to teams of 8th-12th grade student with an adult coach or captain. Teams can come from rural, urban, and suburban schools or homeschool groups in Michigan and surrounding Great Lakes states. New and returning teams are welcome; MISG staff provide start-up guidance and resources for coaches before the competition cycle begins each January. Register by January 12, 2024.

The competition consists of 4 parts designed to engage students in a wide variety of hands-on STEM and humanities topics.

Teams will:

  • Design and build an aquaponics system of any size (New for 2024: no size limit).
  • Monitor the system using chemical and physical monitoring. Bonus points are awarded for using automated monitoring systems (Arduino kits are available to help this year!)
  • Create a business plan for the system or a scaled version of the system; the plan can follow a for-profit or nonprofit model.
  • Create a seafood dish and perform an outreach project promoting healthy seafood consumption. (New for 2024: bonus points are awarded for demonstrating safe seafood handling and processing skills).

The competition comes with support such as: $150 stipends, a virtual coach training and kick off meeting, a team liaison assigned to meet virtually with each team throughout the season, and several electronic resources.

Teams work from January-April to design and engineer table-top aquaponics systems. They spend the competition window monitoring and automating the systems, crafting business plans, and creating seafood outreach projects. Staff from MISG and faculty and students from Lake Superior State University provide guidance and mentorship to teams and coaches throughout the process.

The 2024 competition ends April 19, when teams submit their accomplishments virtually using videos and PDFs to capture their hard work. A virtual awards ceremony will take place on April 25, and winning teams receive trophies in the mail.

Learn more through the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center Youth Education in Aquaculture page

To learn more about the Aquaculture Challenge or to explore participating in the future, contact MISG Extension Educator Elliot Nelson at or 906-322-0353.