Plasma clearance and tissue accumulation of 125I-angiotensin I, [Asp1, Ile5]ANG I, and [14C]sucrose, an inert volume reference, were measured after a bolus injection into the dorsal aorta of rainbow trout, Salmo gairdneri. Retention and metabolism of ANG I to angiotensin II (ANG II) and their constituent 1-4 peptide by the gill were examined using an isolated perfused arch preparation in which outflow from the respiratory and central filamental (venous) pathways was separated. Clearance of ANG I from plasma is multiexponential, reflecting dilution and tissue extraction. Liver, bile, gonads, corpuscles of Stannius, and white skeletal muscle accumulate more 125I than 14C; gill tissue accumulates less 125I than 14C. ANG I and II are retained by the perfused gill longer than the inert vascular marker sucrose, even though the distribution volumes of the former are less. The gill respiratory pathway converts ANG I to ANG II whereas the venous pathway metabolizes either ANG I or II to the 1-4 peptide and other metabolites. The gill respiratory pathway is in series with the systemic vasculature, has a large blood-cell contact area, and, like the mammalian lung, is ideally suited to activate ANG I. The gill venous pathway is in parallel with the systemic vasculature and removes ANG II from the circulation. During stress, elevated plasma catecholamines may reduce venous perfusion and thereby help maintain elevated circulating ANG II levels through reduced venous metabolism.