The physiological role of the catecholamines (CA), adrenaline and noradrenaline in fish has been frequently reviewed, but the metabolic consequences of these hormones have received less attention. The purpose of this review is to examine the recent literature dealing with CA actions on whole fish and tissue metabolism. The CA increase glucose production both in vivo and in vitro, at least in isolated hepatocytes. Although the data are less clear, lipid mobilization is also a consequence of elevated circulating CA. The difficulty with using the whole fish for such studies is that CA may alter other circulating hormone levels, CA turnover in the circulation quickly, and it is difficult to define precisely the tissue being affected. Much of our understanding is derived, therefore, from the study of isolated tissues, and especially the hepatocyte. Catecholamines stimulate both glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis in hepatocytes isolated from a large number of fish species. This review examines the steps involved in the signal transduction system, from the binding of CA to alpha- and beta-adrenoceptors to the ultimate effects of specific enzyme phosphorylation. Recent literature demonstrates that the complexity of the adrenoceptor system noted for mammals, also is expressed in fish. Adrenoceptor subtypes are specific to species, to tissues and to function of the tissues, and these issues are discussed especially as they are related to external and to internal stressors. Future research will pursue better definitions of the adrenoceptor systems, molecular biology of the components of these receptor systems and development of alternative cell models. There still remains a poor explanation of the reason for the diversity of adrenoceptor systems, and there are a number of fish systems that may provide unique opportunities to understand this question.