Environmental groups have recently filed lawsuits challenging a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit allowing the operation of an aquaculture pilot project about 40 miles offshore from Sarasota County.

The Velella Epsilon project would gather environmental information about such “net-pen” facilities — which are large cages suspended in ocean waters that corral fish but allow water to flow through the systems — while producing an estimated 80,000 pounds of seafood during the operation of the project in the Gulf of Mexico.

But environmental groups such as the Center for Food Safety have challenged the project’s permit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that EPA officials failed to adequately evaluate the risks from wastewater discharges from the project. Critics have also expressed concerns that the net-pen system might not hold up well during severe weather.