Abstract In many teleost species, the photoreceptive pineal organ harbors the circadian clock that regulates melatonin release in the pineal organ itself. However, the pineal organ of three salmonids (rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss, masu salmon Oncorhynchus masou, and sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka) did not exhibit circadian rhythms in melatonin release when maintained under constant darkness (DD) in vitro, suggesting that the pineal organs of all salmonids lack the circadian regulation of melatonin production. To test this hypothesis, the pineal organ of seven salmonids (common whitefish Coregonus lavaretus, grayling Thymallus thymallus, Japanese huchen Hucho perryi, Japanese charr Salvelius leucomaenis pluvius, brook trout Salvelius fontinalis, brown trout Salmo trutta and chum salmon Oncorhynchus keta) and closely related osmerids (ayu Plecoglossus altivelis altivelis and Japanese smelt Hypomesus nipponensis) were individually maintained in flow-through culture at 15 °C under several light conditions. Under light–dark cycles, the pineal organ of all species showed a rhythmic melatonin release with high rates during the dark phase. Under DD, the osmerid pineal organs exhibited circadian rhythms in melatonin release with high rates only during the subjective-night but the salmonid pineal organs constantly released melatonin at high rates. Under constant light, melatonin release was suppressed in all species. The pineal organ of rainbow trout maintained at different temperature (15, 20 or 25 °C) under DD released melatonin with high rates but the amount of melatonin released was temperature-sensitive (highest at 20 °C). Thus, melatonin release from the pineal organ of osmerids is regulated by both light and circadian clock but the circadian regulation is lacking in salmonids. These results indicate that ancestral salmonids lost the circadian regulation of melatonin production after the divergence from osmerid teleosts.