We performed in vivo studies to examine the idea that cardiac work is impaired in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) below a certain venous PO2 threshold. We hypothesized that coronary-ligated fish, swimming continuously at a reasonably high water velocity (1.5 body lengths x s(-1)) and exposed to progressive hypoxia, would fatigue at higher venous PO2 and ambient water PO2 compared with sham-operated fish. However, we found that both the lowest venous PO2 that supported hypoxic swimming (9.9 torr for coronary-ligated fish and 11.1 torr for sham-operated fish) and the venous PO2 at fatigue (7.8 torr and 8.6 torr, respectively) were the same for coronary-ligated and sham-operated fish. Also, both groups quit swimming at the same water PO2 heart rate and hematocrit. Nevertheless, significant differences in cardiac performance did exist between the two groups. Whereas ventral aortic blood pressure (Pva) increased significantly with hypoxic swimming in sham-operated fish, there was no such increase in coronary-ligated fish. In addition, cardiac arrhythmias occurred in coronary-ligated fish at fatigue, and these fish were slower to recover from exhaustion. We believe that the venous PO2 threshold to support cardiac performance in the absence of a coronary supply was between 7.8 and 9.9 torr. Furthermore, we suspect that the low PO2 in coronary-ligated fish effectively lowered their myocardial O2 demand. Uncertainty still exists regarding whether or not the venous PO2 threshold lies between 8.6 and 11.1 torr in sham-operated fish.