Bleak scientific findings that overfishing will empty the oceans of big fish and leave just small creatures — such as jellyfish or plankton — seem based on flawed data, a study said yesterday.

An international team of scientists concluded that a far wider diversity of creatures was likely to survive — from predators such as sharks and tuna to tiny molluscs and algae — in a possible reprieve for the diversity of marine life.

Writing in the journal Nature, they said an influential study in 1998 gave rise to a widely used yardstick indicating that overfishing would lead to "fishing down marine food webs," shifting to ever smaller species as big ones were depleted.

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