Friends of Animals is challenging in federal court a proposed aquaculture facility in the Gulf of Mexico, which could dump fish waste and pharmaceuticals into an area already ravaged by harmful algal blooms.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the permit for the Ocean Era Project—the first of its kind in federal waters—which would see about 20,000 Almaco jack fish raised in a net pen 45 miles offshore from Florida’s Sarasota County.

“The EPA should not be sanctioning a commercial fish farm in federal waters that could set a precedent for more large-scale industrial facilities that pollute the oceans,” said Stephen Hernick, attorney for Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “Not only is the EPA’s move unethical, but it’s also illegal. This would allow a polluting factory farm directly in our ocean that would have devastating effects on numerous species. For one, the enormous amount of fish waste and antibiotics this facility would generate would only exacerbate devastating red algal blooms off the coast of Florida.”

Friends of Animals points out that Ocean Era Project is in one of the most sensitive and damaged areas of federal waters, where harmful algal blooms routinely kill fish, eels, dolphins and sea turtles, and represent a threat to human health.

“There could not be a worse location for the Ocean Era Project to take place,” Hernick added. “The Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act all prohibit such a reckless and dangerous precedent. Shockingly, EPA is sticking its head in the sand and is saying nowhere is off limits for concentrated fish factory farming. FoA could not sit by and allow this to happen.”

FoA also argues that EPA failed to consider the risk of parasite or pathogen transfer from farmed fish to the surrounding wild fish; the danger that pharmaceuticals used will contribute to antibiotic resistance; and the threats of fish escapes, which have happened with the same type of net pen and same company.