Enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants serve as an important biological defense against environmental oxidative stress. Information on antioxidant defense in fish is meager despite that fish are constantly exposed to a myriad of environmental stress including the oxidants. This study, therefore, assesses the activities of antioxidant enzymes viz., glutathione peroxidase, catalase and glutathione S-transferase and the non- enzymatic antioxidants viz., glutathione and metallothionein in various tissues of freshwater fish Channa punctatus (Bloch), in response to short- term and long-term exposures to paper mill effluent. The fish were exposed to the effluent at a concentration of 1.0% (v/v) for 15, 30, 60 and 90 days. The exposure caused a time-dependent increase in glutathione level (P < 0.001), activities of glutathione peroxidase (P < 0.05 to P < 0.001), glutathione S- transferase (P < 0.001) and a marginal initial decrease in catalase activity in the liver (P < 0.01 to P < 0.001). Metallothionein was induced in liver after 60 days of exposure. Two isoforms of metallothionein were detected. Catalase activity also increased 60 days afterwards. Antioxidant pattern was different in gill and kidney showing that liver was more resistant to oxidative damage as compared to gills and kidney. Our results demonstrate a pollutant-induced adaptive response in fish. In addition, levels of enzymatic and non-enzymatic tissue antioxidants may serve as surrogate markers of exposure to oxidant pollutants in fish. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.