Randy Lanctot, the esteemed executive director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, once told me that if outdoorsmen aren't careful, they'll conserve themselves right out of existence.

He couldn't have been more right, and that's something for us all to keep in mind now that Hurricane Gustav has taken a sledgehammer to some of our fisheries.

Back in 1992, Hurricane Andrew took a very similar path to Gustav, and the results were painful to behold.

Throughout the Atchafalaya Basin, dissolved oxygen levels plummeted, and fish by the millions literally suffocated.

Casting a spinnerbait or plastic worm in the Basin during the first year after the storm was just about as productive as doing the same in your local community swimming pool.

Ostensibly to protect the fish that did survive, the state imposed a 14-inch-minimum size limit on bass caught in the Basin and some surrounding waters. It was nothing more than a feel-good measure designed to show that the state was doing something.

But concerned anglers, assuming that the new limits would speed the recovery, hailed the move, and the limits remain in place now, 16 years later.

What these same anglers fail to realize, however, is that the limiting factor in a system as dynamic as the Atchafalaya Basin is not how many spawning fish there are. It wouldn't take very many fish at all to produce enough offspring to entirely repopulate the Basin in two years.

Why? Because in a rich system like the Basin, most bass fry produced in a typical year are gobbled up by predators, including other bass. Since most of those predators were killed when Gustav rolled through, an extremely high percentage of the baby bass that will be produced during the spring 2009 spawn will survive. During the 2011 spawn, most of these fish will be parked on beds themselves, and during the 2012 spawn, all of them that have survived to that point will.

To be sure, there will be many more bass produced than the system can support, and the vast majority will be absorbed into that very system, most often through the mouths of predators.

Nature does a wonderful job of regulating herself, far better than anything man can do.

Does that mean conservation is unimportant? Of course not. If we had no limits on bass in the Basin or anywhere else, highly skilled anglers could pull ice chest after ice chest of fish from the waters, leaving relatively few for other anglers. Having trip limits ensures that all anglers have somewhat equal access to the fishery.

But it's time for the 14-inch-minimum to go. After all, what did it really produce? More fish in the Basin? Well, in a sense. The 14-inch-minimum did what all minimums do — it stockpiled a bunch of fish beneath the length limit. So if the desired effect was to have a lot of little fish in the Basin, it did its job.

But where are those fish now? They're being devoured by crabs and catfish in Atchafalaya Bay.

How much better would it have been to let little boys, old men and, yes, even middle-aged weekend anglers enjoy those fish?

There's no doubt about it: The 14-inch-minimum is not a conservation measure; it's a management technique designed to produce a specific outcome. If the state feels like it has to do something, a reduced creel limit would be much more effective, and it wouldn't alienate such a large contingent of Louisiana anglers.