Climate Change May Shrink Fish

By Amir Khan on September 30, 2012 9:39 PM EDT

Climate change and global warming could have devastating effects on the planet, but there's one that people may not expect. According to a new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the warming ocean may lead to smaller fish.

Researchers used a computer model to study more than 600 species of fish and found that the average maximum body weight could decrease by as much as 20 percent by 2050, with fish in the tropics being the most heavily affected.

"We were surprised to see such a large decrease in fish size," William Cheung, study author, said in a statement. "Marine fish are generally known to respond to climate change through changing distribution and seasonality. But the unexpectedly big effect that climate change could have on body size suggests that we may be missing a big piece of the puzzle of understanding climate change effects in the ocean."

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As the ocean warms, less oxygen becomes available to the fish, which limits the size, researchers said.

"It's a constant challenge for fish to get enough oxygen from water to grow, and the situation gets worse as fish get bigger," Pauly said. "A warmer and less-oxygenated ocean, as predicted under climate change, would make it more difficult for bigger fish to get enough oxygen, which means they will stop growing sooner."

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