The rope that dangled down into the hold of the Jo Ann B from a small square opening in the deck suddenly went taut.

The winch overhead hummed Friday as it strained, slowly raising a 55-gallon plastic can loaded to the brim with Coastal Georgia’s most-prized saltwater delicacy. The bounty of wild Georgia shrimp swayed high above the boat Friday morning, then swung over to the City Market docks.

Jake Wilson took it from there, manhandling the huge bucket of white roe shrimp and dumping the catch into a spacious water trough for processing at the City Market plant on Brunswick’s East River. This process repeats itself many times before Capt. Joe Williams’ Jo Ann B had unloaded its plentiful catch for the day.

Entering the third week of the 2017 shrimping season in Georgia’s state waters, the folks who ply the coast to bring the Golden Isles these delicious crustaceans are feeling something strange: optimism.

Of course, anything and everything can go wrong in the weeks ahead. Just ask any of these hardy fishermen whose livelihoods are left to the vagaries of nature. Two years ago, a parasite-borne disease called blackgill decimated the Georgia shrimp crops. Then, after a hearty spring white roe shrimp season in 2016, the summer brown shrimp season was all but nonexistent.

But so far, this year’s shrimping season in Georgia state waters is looking good. There is still an abundance of spring white roe shrimp hanging around and the crop of summer brown shrimp appears to be showing up early, insiders say.

“We’re starting to see a few brown shrimp already, and the white shrimp are still here,” said Bruce Collins, manager of the City Market packing plant.

After a lifetime of shrimping, Capt. Johnny Ray Bennett has by necessity become something of a glass-half-empty guy when it comes to prospects for a good harvest. But Bennett was absolutely giddy Friday after a hefty haul aboard the 84-foot Flying Cloud on just two drags offshore from Glynn County.

Bennett docked at City Market with 800 pounds of white shrimp and “not quite as many as that” of brown shrimp.

“This is the prettiest bunch of white shrimp you’ve ever seen,” Bennett boasted of his catch. “It was a damn good roe season and right now it is still good. I ain’t grumbling.”

State marine biologists say their findings back up the current tide of optimism. Biologists with the state Department of Natural Resources sample the waters monthly, dragging nets at designated locations at six inlets along to coast to gauge the health of the shrimp populations. It is their findings that determine when state waters are open for shrimping, which is typically from June into January.

“From what we have seen so far, they are doing pretty well,” said Pat Geer, Chief of Fisheries for the DNR’s Coastal Resources Division. “Our surveys in May showed above average populations.”

Coastal Georgia’s shrimping industry operates on a complex set of conditions. These include the spawning cycles of the shrimp, state management of the species within Georgia waters and any number of intangibles, from water temperatures to gas prices.

The cycle is unending, so right now is as good of a place to start as any. The DNR opened Georgia’s state waters to shrimping on June 1. State waters extend from the coast to 3 miles out, where federal waters begin. The state’s shrimping season typically runs though December, at which point the DNR can, and usually does, extend the season by up to two months, Geer said.

The average start-to-end-date for the state shrimping season is June 6 to Jan. 13, he said. No matter what, however, Georgia waters are completely closed to shrimping at the very least from March 1 to May 15, Geer said.

The whole point is to give the shrimp time to reproduce, to ensure the population is healthy enough to support the harvest.

“The idea behind it is that you’re protecting the spawning stocks,” Geer said.

“They keep the state waters closed just to ensure we have a good spawning crop,” said John Wallace, who operates Poteet’s Seafood off State Highway 303 in Dock Junction.

Now enter the life cycle of shrimp. Presently, the white roe shrimp season is winding down. In typical years, it already has run its course by now. That crop dies off after spawning along the coast. Its babies scamper for the inland waters of the marsh to feed and grow over the summer, before heading out to sea in the fall.

In the meantime, the smaller species, known as brown shrimp, emerge in coastal waters over the summer months. They typically arrive in significant numbers by early July. Unless they don’t, as shrimpers witnessed last year.

But this year the brown shrimp are already turning up in nets, and are available in stores like City Market, Collins said. But Poteet’s Wallace won’t be convinced of a good harvest until he sees the “brownies” arriving in large numbers this summer.

“It’s still kind of wait and see with the brown shrimp,” he said. “By the time those white roe shrimp finally die out, we hope a few more brownies will be coming in.”

The summer brown shrimp season gives way to the fall crop of new white shrimp, now grown and making their way out to sea. By 2018, those white shrimp will be getting ready to spawn. This starts the harvest of big white roe shrimp.

And if state waters have closed by then, so be it. The most determined shrimpers will head out beyond 3 miles to federal waters to drop their trawl nets. Of course, out there the waters are far more expansive. And the shrimp are still just shrimp.

“The closer you are to shore the higher the density of shrimp,” Geer said. “By having the beaches open they can fish right near the inlets rather than 3 miles offshore. Why do Girl Scouts sells cookies outside of Wal-Mart instead of out in the country? You’ve got more options to go looking for shrimp when the beach is open,” Wallace said.

Which brings us back to the present. And presently, things are looking pretty good.

“We’re staying on shore, and we had a real good day today,” Bennett said. “And the brownies are showing up. I don’t know if it’s going to last, but it’s a hell of a lot better than last year.”