Manufactured nanomaterials (NM) are already used in consumer products and exposure modelling predicts releases of ng to low µg l−1 levels of NMs into surface waters. The exposure of aquatic ecosystems, and therefore fishes, to manufactured NMs is inevitable. This review uses a physiological approach to describe the known effects of NMs on the body systems of fishes and to identify the internal target organs, as well as outline aspects of colloid chemistry relevant to fish biology. The acute toxicity data, suggest that the lethal concentration for many NMs is in the mg l−1 range, and a number of sublethal effects have been reported at concentrations from c. 100 µg to 1 mg l−1. Exposure to NMs in the water column can cause respiratory toxicity involving altered ventilation, mucus secretion and gill pathology. This may not lead, however, to overt haematological disturbances in the short term. The internal target organs include the liver, spleen and haematopoietic system, kidney, gut and brain; with toxic effects involving oxidative stress, ionoregulatory disturbances and organ pathologies. Some pathology appears to be novel for NMs, such as vascular injury in the brain of rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss with carbon nanotubes. A lack of analytical methods, however, has prevented the reporting of NM concentrations in fish tissues, and the precise uptake mechanisms across the gill or gut are yet to be elucidated. The few dietary exposure studies conducted show no effects on growth or food intake at 10–100 mg kg−1 inclusions of NMs in the diet of O. mykiss, but there are biochemical disturbances. Early life stages are sensitive to NMs with reports of lethal toxicity and developmental defects. There are many data gaps, however, including how water quality alters physiological responses, effects on immunity and chronic exposure data at environmentally relevant concentrations. Overall, the data so far suggest that the manufactured NMs are not as toxic as some traditional chemicals (e.g. some dissolved metals) and the innovative, responsible, development of nanotechnology should continue, with potential benefits for aquaculture, fisheries and fish health diagnostics.