The potential of cytochrome oxidase as an indicator of ice storage and frozen storage of fish was investigated. Optimal assay conditions for cytochrome oxidase in a crude homogenate from cod muscle were studied. Maximal cytochrome oxidase activity was found at pH 6.5-7.5 and an assay temperature of 30 degrees C. Maximal activation by Triton X-100 was obtained in a range of 0.62-1.25 mM Triton X-100. The specificity of the assay was high, as cytochrome oxidase was inhibited 98% by 33 microM of the specific inhibitor sodium azide. The coefficient of variation of cytochrome oxidase activity in different cods was 21%, and the coefficient of variation of different analyses on the same homogenate was 5%. It was shown that ice storage of muscle samples before they were frozen and thawed resulted in a major freezing-induced activation of cytochrome oxidase activity. The enzyme may therefore be used as an indicator of frozen fish to determine if the fish has been stored on ice before freezing. Cytochrome oxidase activity showed also potential as an indicator of frozen storage, as it was possible to distinguish between the frozen storage temperatures -9, -20, and -40 degrees C.