Insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) is a key component of the complex system that regulates differentiation, development, growth and reproduction of fishes. The IGF-I gene is mainly expressed in the liver that represents the principal source of endocrine IGF-I but also in numerous other organs where the hormone most probably acts in an autocrine–paracrine manner. The primary stimulus for synthesis and release of IGF-I is growth hormone (GH) from the anterior pituitary. Thus, in analogy to mammals, it is usual to speak of a fish ‘GH–IGF-I axis'. The GH–IGF-I system is affected by changes in the environment and probably represents a target of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) that impair many physiological processes in fishes. Thus, the review deals with the influences of changes in different environmental factors, such as food availability, temperature, photoperiod, season, salinity and EDCs, on GH gene expression in pituitary, IGF-I gene expression in liver and extrahepatic sites and the physiological effects resulting from the evoked alterations in endocrine and local IGF-I. Environmental influences certainly interact with each other but for convenience of the reader they will be dealt with in separate sections. Current trends in GH–IGF-I research are analysed and future focuses are suggested at the end of the sections.