Fish Germs

Tuna is yummy, but will we run out of it? Photo by Dominic Morel, South Africa.

It was a normal stop at the grocery store that wound up becoming one of the germs for my novel.

I found myself scanning the neatly stacked cans of tuna, comparing prices and packing substances (water vs. oil), and trying to determine whether the store brand or the generic brand would be tastiest.

Then I looked again, at the whole tuna inventory. The cans were stacked at least three high and at least three stacks deep. Rows and rows of canned tuna. I’m no mathematician, but I estimated, conservatively, at least 200 cans.

The store wasn’t especially large, and neither was the town I lived in at the time. We had maybe five grocery stores. If they all had equivalent inventories, that’s more than 1,000 cans of tuna. Multiply that by, say, 200 towns in Georgia similar to mine, and you’ve got…well, a lot of cans.

And that’s just smallish towns in one state. Apply the math to both larger and smaller towns, and multiply it by all 48 contiguous states, and the amount of canned tuna sold in the U.S. alone is staggering.

I pondered that for a long time. The population isn’t falling, so the demand for tuna – and other types of food – isn’t going to decrease, either.

At what point will the ocean run out of tuna? What is the tipping point, the point at which the number of tuna taken by fishermen overtakes the number of tuna born every year?

Imagining a post-apocalyptic world, you also have to imagine how it got that way. Was it war? Disease? Drought, flood, fire? Assuming the global population decreased dramatically, was it cause by those events, or the result of those events – injury or radiation poisoning (war), starvation due to crop failure which also causes the failure of the meat industry (drought, flood), mass suffocation and immolation due to the eruption of a super volcano (fire)?

Will we over fish the ocean, over farm the land, over pollute the water? What if we do all of these things?

My basic question was not, then, how an apocalypse might happen, but when.

This is the type of speculation that is great fun to carry from the pondering stage to the writing stage.


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