by Jeni Bone
A study released this week forecasts that fish will get smaller by 2050 in response to global warming, which will cut the amount of oxygen in the oceans in a shift that may also mean dwindling catches.
Fish changing size due to climate change
'The reductions in body size will affect whole ecosystems,' lead author William Cheung of the University of British Columbia in Canada commented on the study, published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
His team of scientists said a trend towards smaller sizes was 'expected to have large implications' for ocean food webs and for human 'fisheries and global protein supply.'
Average maximum body weights for 600 types of marine fish, such as cod, plaice, halibut and flounder, would contract by 14-24 per cent by 2050 from 2000 under a scenario of a quick rise in greenhouse gas emissions, it said.
The scientists said global warming, blamed on human burning of fossil fuels, will make life harder for fish in the oceans largely because warmer water can hold less dissolved oxygen, vital for respiration and growth.
'As the fish grow bigger and bigger it will be difficult to get enough oxygen for growth. There is more demand for oxygen as the body grows. At some point the fish will stop growing,' Cheung said of the study, based on computer models.
As water gets warmer, it also gets lighter, limiting the mixing of oxygen from the surface layers towards the colder, denser layers where many fish live. Rising water temperatures would also add stresses to the metabolic rates of fish.
The scientists said fish stocks were likely to shift from the tropics towards cooler seas to the north and south.
Average maximum sizes of fish in the Indian Ocean were likely to shrink most, by 24 per cent, followed by a decline of 20 per cent in the Atlantic and 14 per cent in the Pacific. The Indian Ocean has most tropical waters of the three.
The study said a computer model projected that ranges for most fish populations would shift towards the poles at a median rate of 27.5 km to 36.4 km (17.1-22.6 miles) a decade from 2000 to 2050.
Adding to climate change, other human factors 'such as over-fishing and pollution, are likely to further exacerbate such impacts,' the study stated.
The climate scenario used in the study would mean an increase in world temperatures of between 2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 9.7 Fahrenheit) by 2100, the second biggest gain of six scenarios used by the UN panel of climate experts.
More at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1691.html