Paul Forsberg watched as the Block Island Wind Farm pilot project with its five turbines was assembled in 2016 off Rhode Island. He saw a crowd on an island beach, gazing at the new wind generators and chattering with enthusiasm.
“I don’t know if these things are going to work,” Forsberg said then. “But they’re coming.”
Four years later, in 2020, Forsberg, who grew up in a well-known Montauk, N.Y, fishing family, started Offshore Wind Farm Support LLC, a consulting firm to help offshore wind developers with their needs for U.S.-flag vessels to do geophysical survey work, and onboard observers to meet regulatory requirements.
Today Forsberg works with almost all of the offshore wind developers off the U.S. East Coast and said he “has more than enough work.”
“I’m an advocate because it’s going to create a lot of jobs,” said Forsberg. But he is also a cautionary voice for offshore wind companies.
In online postings at his website https://offshorewfs.com/, Forsberg has urged the need for requiring fisheries observers on vessels in the U.S. wind fleet — and challenges a persistent sentiment among some in the industry that U.S.-flag workboats and crews cost too much for wind power to succeed here.
Since 1936, the Forsberg family has operated the Montauk-based Viking Fleet, which operates fast ferries, whale watch, party and charter fishing boats.
Paul Forsberg branched into commercial longline fishing for tilefish and swordfish and worked in the Gulf of Mexico energy industry running supply vessels.
With his Montauk connections, Forsberg knew of the escalating tensions between wind developers and commercial fishermen. The Bureau of Offshore Energy Management is requiring wind companies to hire observers to ensure safeguards for whales and other protected species. But the use of fisheries liaisons — experienced fishermen who keep track of survey boats and their interactions with local fisheries — is spotty at best, Forsberg said.
“Vineyard Wind is the most consistent about getting along with the fishermen,” said Forsberg, who counts the developers as a customer.
Forsberg said his group helped another wind developer tamp down one blowup off the Delmarva peninsula in fall 2021, after a survey boat and conch trap fisherman got into a confrontation over gear being dragged and damaged.
“I told the (the wind company) all it’s going to take is one screw-up and you’ll lose that goodwill,” said Forsberg. “Right after that I put a guy on the (survey) boat.”
In his most recent online essay, Forsberg discussed the debate over foreign and U.S. vessels competing for offshore wind survey work. It’s gone on for decades in the offshore oil and gas industry. Energy companies who argue they need foreign vessels for some jobs are regularly challenged by U.S. marine service operators, citing the Jones Act and other federal laws and regulations.
“I spent 10 years in the Gulf of Mexico, so I know how that game works,” said Forsberg.
His latest inspiration came from reading a claim on social media that U.S. mariners can’t do wind survey work as efficiently as experienced European crews working here.
“I came out of my chair about five feet,” he said, and went to his computer at 2 a.m. to cull logbook data and start writing. The essay that came out of it argues that U.S. vessels and mariners’ know-how and efficiency are far more cost effective: https://offshorewfs.com/offshore-wind-money-pit/
Foreign-flag vessels have exacerbated the conflict between fishermen and developers, said Forsberg, and it’s heard on VHF radio. He recalled one of those survey vessel captains broadcasting a demand for all other vessels to stay three miles away.
“Oh my God, this guy has no clue,” Forsberg remembered. “You have these guys, who can’t even speak the language, telling American fishermen what to do. That’s going to make problems,” said Forsberg. “I’ve begged BOEM and sent letters to all the members of Congress who have districts where offshore wind will be built” asking for the agency to make fisheries liaisons and onboard observers a requirement in wind construction and operations plans.
It’s an imperative “so we can move this ball forward” and develop wind energy without damaging U.S. fisheries, he said.