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Commercial shrimper dies after falling overboard near Hernando Beach

HERNANDO BEACH — A 58-year-old commercial shrimper died, officials said, after falling overboard early Friday morning.

Robert T. Parker of Spring Hill was about 3 miles west of Hernando Beach working aboard a 26-foot commercial fishing vessel, Shrimp Life, when he fell overboard about 1 a.m., according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Boat owner Norman J. Soucy, 37, attempted to reach Parker, who was not wearing a life jacket. A report said Parker became unresponsive in the choppy water.

Soucy eventually used the vessel's hydraulics to pull the fisherman from the waves, then sent a distress signal to the Coast Guard. Soucy could not be reached for comment Friday.

When the boat returned to the Hernando Beach boat ramp, the men were met by paramedics, who rushed Parker to Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill, where he was pronounced dead. The conservation commission is still investigating the incident.

Hernando Beach Seafood co-owner Kathryn Birren didn't personally know Parker, but she spoke to local shrimpers after the tragedy. She described them as shocked and saddened.

The weather, they told her, was rough Thursday night. The wind howled, the air was chilly and some reported stints of rain. Birren, who also has fished commercially, said waves could have easily sprayed water on the deck and made it slippery.

She noted that it wasn't unusual that Parker would not be wearing a life jacket.

"That's the norm for commercial fishermen in Florida," she said. "In fact, I've never seen a commercial fisherman wear a life jacket."

Wind speeds in the area at the time of the incident had reached nearly 30 mph, and the temperature had dropped to 60 degrees, according to a forecaster with the National Weather Service. The agency had issued a small-craft advisory that ran from 5 p.m. Thursday to 3 p.m. Friday because of the high winds.

"They have to go out there and fish, even in bad weather," Birren said. "There's going to be rough weather 60 nights this winter, and they'll still go out 60 nights."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@sptimes.com.

Commercial shrimper dies after falling overboard near Hernando Beach 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 6:39pm]

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