Metabolic cold adaptation (MCA), the hypothesis that species from cold climates have relatively higher metabolic rates than those from warm climates, was first proposed nearly 100 years ago and remains one of the most controversial hypotheses in physiological ecology. In the present study, we test the MCA hypothesis in fishes at the level of whole animal, mitochondria and enzyme. In support of the MCA hypothesis, we find that when normalized to a common temperature, species with ranges that extend to high latitude (cooler climates) have high aerobic enzyme (citrate synthase) activity, high rates of mitochondrial respiration and high standard metabolic rates. Metabolic compensation for the global temperature gradient is not complete however, so when measured at their habitat temperature species from high latitude have lower absolute rates of metabolism than species from low latitudes. Evolutionary adaptation and thermal plasticity are therefore insufficient to completely overcome the acute thermodynamic effects of temperature, at least in fishes.