Atlantic salmon Salmo salar, brown trout Salmo trutta (including the anadromous form, sea trout) and Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus (including anadromous fish) provide important commercial and sports fisheries in Western Europe. As water temperature increases as a result of climate change, quantitative information on the thermal requirements of these three species is essential so that potential problems can be anticipated by those responsible for the conservation and sustainable management of the fisheries and the maintenance of biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems. Part I compares the temperature limits for survival, feeding and growth. Salmo salar has the highest temperature tolerance, followed by S. trutta and finally S. alpinus. For all three species, the temperature tolerance for alevins is slightly lower than that for parr and smolts, and the eggs have the lowest tolerance; this being the most vulnerable life stage to any temperature increase, especially for eggs of S. alpinus in shallow water. There was little evidence to support local thermal adaptation, except in very cold rivers (mean annual temperature <6·5° C). Part II illustrates the importance of developing predictive models, using data from a long-term study (1967–2000) of a juvenile anadromous S. trutta population. Individual-based models predicted the emergence period for the fry. Mean values over 34 years revealed a large variation in the timing of emergence with c. 2 months between extreme values. The emergence time correlated significantly with the North Atlantic Oscillation Index, indicating that interannual variations in emergence were linked to more general changes in climate. Mean stream temperatures increased significantly in winter and spring at a rate of 0·37° C per decade, but not in summer and autumn, and led to an increase in the mean mass of pre-smolts. A growth model for S. trutta was validated by growth data from the long-term study and predicted growth under possible future conditions. Small increases (<2·5° C) in winter and spring would be beneficial for growth with 1 year-old smolts being more common. Water temperatures would have to increase by c. 4° C in winter and spring, and 3° C in summer and autumn before they had a marked negative effect on trout growth.