The nucleotide sequence of the control region and flanking tRNA genes of perch (Perca fluviatilis) mtDNA was determined. The organization of this region is similar to that of other vertebrates. A tandem array of 10-bp repeats, associated with length variation and heteroplasmy was observed in the 5' end. While the location of the array corresponds to that reported in other species, the length of the repeated unit is shorter than previously observed for tandem repeats in this region. The repeated sequence was highly similar to the Mt5 element which has been shown to specifically bind a putative D-loop DNA termination protein. Of 149 perch analyzed, 74% showed length variation heteroplasmy. Single-cell PCR on oocytes suggested that the high level of heteroplasmy is passively maintained by maternal transmission. The array was also observed in the two other percid species, ruffe (Acerina cernua) and zander (Stizostedion lucioperca). The array and the associated length variation heteroplasmy are therefore likely to be general features of percid mtDNAs. Among the perch repeats, the mutation pattern is consistent with unidirectional slippage, and statistical analyses supported the notion that the various haplotypes are associated with different levels of heteroplasmy. The variation in array length among and within species is ascribed to differences in predicted stability of secondary structures made between repeat units.