Activation of arylamines to mutagenic metabolites by hepatic S9 fractions has been evaluated as a biomaker of fish exposure to pollutants, using gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), a valuable fish species from the Spanish South Atlantic littoral, as model organism. To obtain maximal sensitivity to the mutagenic action of aromatic amines, a strain of Salmonella typhimurium overproducing O-acetyltransferase was used. Fish were treated with Aroclor 1254, pesticides (malathion and dieldrin), or copper(II), and compared to Aroclor 1254-treated rats. The promutagen activation capabilities of the S9 fractions were further characterized by studying the effect of two monooxygenase inhibitors, alpha-naphthoflavone, a well known inhibitor of aromatic hydrocarbon-inducible forms of cytochrome P450, and methimazole, a substrate for the flavin monooxygenase (FMO) system. This study shows that 2-aminoanthracene (2-AA) and 2-acetylaminofluorene (AAF) activation by gilthead liver is enhanced by treatment of fish with different xenobiotics. The catalyst responsible for this enhanced activation appears to be different for each promutagen and, at least for 2-AA, dependent on the type of xenobiotic. The data presented indicate further that treatment of gilthead with some compounds, such as malathion and dieldrin, enhances the activation of aromatic amines in liver, without inducing ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase activity. The use of acetyltransferase-overproducing bacteria appears to be a useful tool in the study of arylamine activation by fish liver, where biotransformation capability is lower than in mammals.