MIDDLE TOWNSHIP - Rick Traber spent his early career as a commercial fisherman, dredging clams along the East Coast as far south as Virginia.
But Traber, owner of Pier 47 Marina in Middle Township, said he saw signs of trouble in the commercial fishing industry.
"It used to be man versus nature. You had to contend with the weather," he said. "But every year there was more government regulation."
In 1984 he bought a patch of open ground near the marsh behind Wildwood next to a menhaden plant on Route 47, the causeway leading to Wildwood. There was not much there at the time - just a couple of piers off Richardson Channel where commercial-fishing boats would tie up after off-loading their catch, he said.
But Traber, of Wildwood, saw potential in the location and built a full-service marina on 4.5 sprawling acres.
Unlike other marinas that see a mix of commercial and charter fishing customers, Traber's Pier 47 caters exclusively to recreational boaters and fishermen. The pier relies on front-end forklifts to haul and lift boats, most of which are under 30 feet in length.
Catering to smaller boats means customers normally must wait only a few minutes to get their boat in the water. The forklifts are speedy and efficient, Traber said.
The marina has 100 boat slips in five sheltered piers off the Intracoastal Waterway. It sells new and used boats, performs repairs of all kinds and offers winter storage in an enormous warehouse.
The marina also rents boats so visitors can enjoy a day of fishing on the back bays.
The marina is a dealer for Carolina catamarans and skiffs, Glacier Bay and Monsoon pontoon boats. It also sells personal watercraft from Yamaha and Kawasaki.
Pier 47 employs factory-trained technicians who can perform engine or electrical repairs. The marina offers tune-ups, winterization, shrink-wrapping, boat detailing and fuel.
"It seems like people are holding onto their boats longer. Maintenance is more important," he said.
Boats that sit for months can suffer from fuel issues from newer ethanol fuels that decompose over time, he said.
"If you let your boat sit for a couple months, you can wind up having problems. It gums up the carburetor or fuel injectors," he said.
Recreational boating is a $121 billion business in the United States, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The industry supports nearly 1 million jobs spread across 34,833 businesses.
Sales of boats 26 feet or smaller - the kind Pier 47 sells - jumped 11 percent last year. Ski-boat sales increased by 13 percent.
The association said sales of new powerboats have been good so far in 2013 as well.
Pier 47 is a family business that employs Traber's son, Eric, and daughter, Megan, both of Middle Township.
Traber's wife, Janet, also works in the office. Business mascots Bo and Docker have the run of the marina store, welcoming customers with a wagging tail as they browse the bait-and-tackle shop.
The marina caters to local boaters, daytrippers and the area's many second homeowners. Boating season kicks off in April and winds up after striped-bass season in the late fall. Customers take their boats out of the water gradually throughout the fall, but they all want to be on the water by Memorial Day, he said.
The marina participates in all the region's boat shows, particularly the two in Atlantic City.
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