Abstract Three strains of the fish pathogenic bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida were examined with respect to their ability to survive in seawater. Five to seven days after plate counts decreased below the detection limit of 10 cells/ml, the population of respiring A. salmonicida cells comprised less than 4% of the initial total bacterial population. At this stage, samples were transferred either to sterile nutrient or to control flasks containing sterile nutrient-free medium. The addition of nutrients caused reappearance of growing bacteria, detected by plating on agar medium and an increase of the population of respiring bacteria to 85–95% of the total population. In a separate experiment it was shown that after more than six months of starvation at 15°C, a few of the starved A. salmonicida cells were able to regrow in liquid media after addition of nutrients, but not on agar media. These cells evade detection by direct microscopic respiratory measurement but appear to be reactivated after addition of nutrients.